Spotted Coralroot, Corallorhiza maculata, Orchid family
About a mile from the trail head at Spring Creek, these little orchids are just beginning to bloom. They are widespread and common at low to mid elevations in moist and wet climates in most of the U.S. and Canada, although I suspect they are often overlooked. They are listed as “of special concern”, “threatened” or “endangered” in 7 states.
Their genus Corallorhiza (the Coralroots) are saprophytic, deriving their nutriments from decaying organic material and do not have the chlorophyll used by most plants for food production. As with most saprophytes, they cannot be cultivated and because of their dependency on decaying matter, they may be abundant in one part of the forest one year and completely absent the next.
I’m learning! I thought, “Those look like little orchids” – and they are. I like the thought that they can’t be cultivated – how wonderful that there’s part of the world we can’t do anything with but admire.
I like that too, although I’m sure there are folks who try to transplant them without knowing and only succeed in killing the plant. I also rather like it that they may or may not be found in the same place year to year. It makes encountering them a pleasant surprise. These were rather small and I hope I will run into some that are much larger. They can get up to 16 inches tall.
So beautiful, delicate and fleeting. I understand that “of special concern” has more to do with the destruction of habitat for species but somehow it just seems like such a fitting term for this little beauty. Great find. Thanks so much for sharing it.
I have an idea that the decaying material that provides its food takes a long time to get to the right point, and it must be undisturbed through the process. This is found off the trails, never right on them.
Last season I came across a single patch of pacific coralroot in a forest in eastern Washington State. I searched for hours to find more, but had no luck. However, in the same area, I did find some pine drops as well as Duchman’s pipe, all heterotrophic plants.
Just the other day I ran across quite a few pinedrops in a place I thought was unusual for them, a shelf of land about 20 ft above the river. I suppose they were there because there were a lot of very old downed trees in various stages of decay.