It’s early August, and the community of plants and fungi on the forest floor is changing once again. The dense cover of spring’s herbaceous growth is now withering, leaving open spaces that reveal late-season treasures. Recent rains have fed a new crop of colorful mushrooms, and with them, here and there, a few orchids can still be found.
Yesterday we discovered Spotted Coralroot Orchid coming up in the woods at Glen Alton. Unlike other flowering plants that are green and photosynthetic, Spotted Coralroot is saprophytic– it gets energy from dead organic matter with the help of mycorrhizae. The common name “coralroot” is derived from the plant’s underground rhizomes, which are white and hard, resembling coral.
This plant has no leaves. During the summer months (June-August), an inconspicuous, reddish-brown raceme of 10 to 40 flowers rises from the forest floor. Each tiny flower has reddish-brown sepals and petals; the lower lip of the flower is white with purple spots.
Corrallorhiza maculata also goes by the common name, Summer Coralroot. It can be found growing in woodland areas across most of North America. Another species, Autumn Coralroot, blooms later (pictured at the bottom of this page). While the flowers are similar to Spotted Coralroot, Autumn Coralroot flowers are self-pollinated and often don’t open at all. Their blooms are dominated by a larger ovary.