Plant of the Week
Early Coralroot (Corallorhiza trifida)
By Larry Stritch
The early coral-root 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 coral-root orchid has a circum-boreal distribution and is the only member of the genus Corallorhiza to occur in Eurasia. The species occurs in a broad array of coniferous to deciduous habitats in humus rich soils.
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 wisteriana attains a height of 8 to 35 centimeters.
Early coral-root occurs occasionally as a single aboveground flowering scape or as several scapes from a clone. 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. Corallorhiza trifida flowers from spring to midsummer. The fruit is a capsule.
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.