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Early Coralroot

Corallorhiza trifida

  • Name also: Early Coral-root Orchid, Northern Coralroot Orchid, Yellow Coralroot
  • Family: Orchid Family – Orchidaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Rootstock yellowish white, like coral, branched, rootless, parasite, symbiotic with mushroom roots.
  • Height: 10–25 cm (4–10 in.). Stem delicate, initially almost non-chlorophyllous, yellowish white–light yellowish brown, later often becoming greener.
  • Flower: Perianth irregular (zygomorphic), light brownish–greenish yellowish white, approx. 5 mm (0.2 in.) long. Tepals 6, in 2 whorls, of which one elaborated into labellum. Labellum under perianth, spurless, short, white, often red-spotted. Androecium and gynoecium fused into a column, stamens 1, stigmas 2. Inflorescence a 3–10-flowered lax spike.
  • Leaves: Alternate, sheath-like–scaly, non-chlorophyllous stem leaves 1–3.
  • Fruit: Elliptic, initially green, later dark brown, nodding capsule, seeds tiny, like dust.
  • Habitat: Infertile swamps, moist boggy forests, bogs, stream banks, ditches.
  • Flowering time: June–July.

Early coralroot is one of our more common orchids, but it is hardly ever seen. Its small size and modest appearance mask it in the dim light of woodlands and boggy forests. Early coralroot is in many ways as much fungus as it is plant. This non-chlorophyllous species is completely dependent on underground fungus: it is completely rootless and can only absorb nutrition through the fungus. Its coral-like rootstock is actually a mutated stem.

Traditionally early coralroot is regarded as a saprophyte, which gets the carbon it requires from rotting vegetable matter via the fungus’s roots. New studies have shed light on the species’ ecology: early coralroot seems to be connected through mycorrhizal fungi to assimilating plants, which provide its nutrition. Our forest trees, likely fir in the south and birch or willow further north, are responsible for feeding the plant.

Early coralroot only breaks through the surface of the ground when it is flowering. The red colour of its buds disappears when they open and pollinators are attracted by the pale yellowish flowers. It seems to be mainly pollinated by a certain kind of flower fly, and blowflies are also interested. Visits from insects are not entirely necessary because early coralroot is self-pollinating, to be on the safe side. As the seeds ripen on the stem they turn slightly green and are apparently able to assimilate, at least to some extent.

Other species from the same family

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