Corallorhiza is a genus in the Orchidaceae family from North and Central America. It is commonly known as coralroot because its rhizome branches are short and scaly and resemble a marine coral. These plants are more or less dependent on orchid associated fungi called orchid mycorrhizae. The latest evidence shows that these fungi are not necessarily saprobic (where they gather nutrients from the surrounding organic matter and giving it to the orchids), but are mycorrhizal. The orchids are in fact parasites of these fungi which are symbiotic with trees. In other words, ectomycorrhizal fungi are symbiotic with trees where they obtain mineral nutrients for carbons fixed through photosynthesis. The orchids behave like a parasite that steals the carbon from the fungus. This fascinating symbiosis is complex and is one of the hottest topics of mycorrhizal research as of 2008.
Corallorhiza maculata is found in shaded coniferous forests from California to British Columbia, also in the eastern United States and New Mexico. It has red brown to pink spotted petals and a white spotted lip. The species can be variable, some with spots and these are without spots. The first photo by Bob Rutemoeller was taken in Kruse Rhododendron State Park and the next two photos by Mary Sue Ittner in Mendocino County. The last three photos were taken by Nhu Nguyen in Tilden Park, Berkeley CA under some native oaks in spring.
Corallorhiza mertensiana is found in shaded to open mixed-evergreen or coniferous forests in decomposing litter. It has reddish stems and pink flowers with yellow or dark red veins. Photos taken by Bob Rutemoeller and Mary Sue Ittner in Kruse Rhododendron State Park and Salt Point State Park, California. The last three photos shows a clump that included plants with white flowers. Unfortunately the conditions were not very good for photographing the flowers. Thanks to Meighan Mararchuk for helping to improve those images.
Corallorhiza striata is found in rich, shaded woods below 2500 m in North America. It has seven to 30 pinkish yellow to white flowers that are distinctly tinged and striped with purple. Photographed by Meighan Mararchuk near Nakusp in southeastern British Columbia, Canada.
Corallorhiza trifida is found in wet, open to shaded, coniferous forests in the United States. It has a greenish yellow stem and white or yellowish flowers.
Corallorhiza wisteriana is found in mixed deciduous forests in the southeastern United States. Its survival is based through a relationship with a fungus or fungi which decompose forest litter and the plants have no foliage or photosynthetic parts. Flowers appear variably in January and February in the Florida panhandle where these photos were taken. Note the camouflaged nature of the flowers. Photos by Alani Davis.
Below is a picture of seed pods taken by Bob Rutemoeller of either Corallorhiza maculata or Corallorhiza mertensiana. Both grow in the area where they were seen.