Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Coralroot Orchid

Mark Bower was surveying Valley Water Mill Park once again for fungi when he came across this beauty which is sometimes called Fungal Flower.  He identified it as a Spring Coralroot orchid, Corallorhiza wisteriana and as usual got some beautiful photographs.

The protruding lower lip is typical of many orchids, but it doesn't start like that.  "Interestingly, the lip is actually derived from the uppermost petal, but in most species the flower twists during development so that the lip is oriented at the bottom." Ted C. Macrae

Like Indian Pipe it is myco-heterotrophic, a big word but easy to break down.  Heterotroph is other feeding, and myco refers to fungi.  They lack  chlorophyll and obtain nutrition from mycorrhizal fungi in the soil.  It is found throughout much of the US, frequently in forest settings.  Mycotrophic flowers were considered saprophytic in the past and some sources continue to use the term.  Saprophytic implies living on dead matter while these flowers have an active parasitic relationship with the fungi, taking nutrition while giving nothing back except above ground beauty.

As you might expect it is easy to overlook with its brown-purple flowers hiding on the forest floor.  It escapes most botanical surveys as it may stay dormant underground for years between blooms.  They prefer rocky acidic soils of low wooded valleys and ravines along streams.

There are 34 species of orchids in Missouri, 200 in the US and Canada.  

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