Corallorhiza trifida - Early Coralroot

The early coralroot orchid is an herbaceous, perennial wildflower with a broad distribution across Canada and the northern United states into Alaska, south into the central northern Rocky Mountains with several glacial relictual populations to the south. Early coralroot orchid has a circum-boreal distribution and is the only member of the genus Corallorhiza to occur in Eurasia. Early coralroot occurs occasionally as a single aboveground flowering scape or as several scapes from a clone.

Corallorhiza trifida
Corallorhiza trifida. Image permission by Charles Peirce.

USDA NRCS PLANTS Database range map for the species.
Corallorhiza striata range map. USDA PLANTS Database.

Corallorhiza trifida (Corallorhiza – corallion – coral and rhiza – root; coral-root and trifida – 3-parted) refers to the underground stems, rhizomes, appearing like an ocean coral and the individual flowers having 3-lobed lip.

Corallorhiza trifida attains a height of 8 to 35 centimeters. The yellow-green to green scape emerges from a small, flattish, coral-shaped rhizome. The leaves are reduced to sheaths surrounding a simple scape (stalk of the inflorescence), yellow-green to green. The inflorescence is a lax to dense raceme of few to numerous flowers. Flowers are fully open and spreading. The flowers are generally yellow-green, the sepals are occasionally brownish-purple, with the petals commonly spotted with purple, the lip is generally white, occasionally purple-spotted. The fruit is a capsule.

Corallorhiza trifida
Corallorhiza trifida. Image permission by Charles Peirce.

Corallorhiza trifida
Corallorhiza trifida. Image permission by Mark Larocque.

Corallorhiza trifida may be found growing above ground as a single scape (left) or many scapes from a clone (right).

Corallorhiza trifida
Corallorhiza trifida. Photo by Charles Peirce.

Corallorhiza trifida
Corallorhiza trifida. Photo by Amadej Trrnkoczy.

Corallorhiza trifida
Corallorhiza trifida. Photo by Lorne Heshka.

The early coralroot's petals and sepals may be a pale yellowish-chartreuse (left), yellow-green with sepals (center), and sometimes brownish-purple (right)

Corallorhiza trifida
Corallorhiza trifida. Photo by Amadej Trrnkoczy.

Corallorhiza trifida
Corallorhiza trifida. Photo by Lorne Heshka.

The flower of Corallorhiza trifida generally has petals that are spotted with purple while the lip is not spotted (left). However, any combination of these two characters may be found on a given early coralroot orchid (right).

Taxonomic note: Fernald in Gray’s Manual 8th ed. treated the yellow-green, spotless, early coral-root as Corallorhiza trifida var. verna. Magrath and Freudenstein in the Flora of North America placed this taxon in synonymy with Corallorhiza trifida.

Corallorhiza trifida flowers from spring to midsummer. The species occurs in a broad array of coniferous to deciduous habitats in humus rich soils.

Special note: Yellow-green to green color variants of Corallorhiza wisteriana, C. odontorhiza and C. maculata are occasionally misidentified as Corallorhiza trifida where their ranges overlap.

Corallorhiza wisteriana