Friday, September 25, 2009

Late Coralroot

Here’s another neat little orchid. This is called Late Coralroot, Corallorhiza odontorhiza. It grows in the shadows of the woodland and is hard to see with its nine inch height, narrow stem and tiny flowers.

You have to get close to even see if this flower is blooming. Some of the flowers never open and are self fertile. Others, like the one shown, are fertilized by some type of insect. Some types of orchids are rare because of the loss of the specific insect providing pollination service. A self fertile option can allow a population to maintain itself, but doesn’t allow for any genetic exchange.

Tiny seeds will develop inside the pods. The seeds are almost dust-like, but wind and rain won’t move them very far from where they develop.

The stems and flowers are predominately a red or purple color. There are no leaves and because it has no chlorophyll, the plant doesn’t produce its own food.

The bulk of the plant is found growing beneath the soil surface as an underground stem called a rhizome. Coralroots are parasitic on Mycorrhizal Fungi, a condition known as mycotrophism. Mycorrhizal Fungi play a major role in the decomposition and transport of elements within the soil ecosystem. Research has shown that these fungi not only benefit plant growth in general, they are essential for the survival of some species.

This was a good bloom year for this species. There were many dozens of flower stalks in this one location. It’s possible that it may be several years before we have blooms here again. Despite the lack of blooms, the plant can be healthy and prospering underground.

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