ghost orchid

Spring Coralroot, Wister's Coralroot (Corallorhiza wisteriana)

Part of the Florida's Native and Naturalized Orchids Website

  Kingdom:   Plantae - Plants
    Subkingdom:   Tracheobionta - Vascular Plants
      Superdivision:   Spermatophyta - Seed plants
        Division:   Magnoliophyta - Flowering plants
          Class:   Liliopsida - Monocotyledons
            Subclass:   Liliidae - Lily/related subclass
              Order:   Orchidales - Orchid order
                Family:   Orchidaceae - Orchid Family
                  Subfamily:   Epidendroideae - Epidendroids
                    Tribe:   Calypsoeae - Calypso Tribe
                      Subtribe:   Corallorhizinae - Corallorhiza and related

Distribution Map:
Distribution map for Spring Coralroot, Wister's Coralroot (Corallorhiza wisteriana)
Summary: Leafless mycoheterotrophic plants with coralline root systems giving rise to sporadic flowering stems. Flower stems typically a bronze color with small (< 1 cm) flowers. Sepals and petals greenish bronze, forming a hood over the white lip which is typically spotted with purple.

Common Name: Spring Coralroot, Wister's Coralroot

Habitat: hardwood forests, typically where the soil is evenly moist, but not wet.

Flowering season: December through March (peaking in February)

Spring Coralroot (Corallorhiza wisteriana) - two flowering stems
Spring Coralroot (Corallorhiza wisteriana) - two flowering stems
Spring Coralroot (Corallorhiza wisteriana) - flowering stem
Spring Coralroot (Corallorhiza wisteriana) - flowering stem
Spring Coralroot (Corallorhiza wisteriana) - flowering stem
Spring Coralroot (Corallorhiza wisteriana) - flowering stem
Spring Coralroot (Corallorhiza wisteriana) - flowering closeup
Spring Coralroot (Corallorhiza wisteriana) - flowering closeup


Early spring is a time when a number of woodland orchids bloom. The trees are not quite fully decked in their leaves so more light reaches the forest floor. While many of these woodland orchids rely on leaves to produce their food, a few orchids (known as mycoheterotrophs) rely on mycorrhizal fungi almost entirely to provide them with nutrients. It is well known that most species of orchids have nutrient-poor seeds and rely on fungi to infect the embryos and sustain them with nutrients during the early stages of their development. Most orchids go on to develop leaves and roots that photosynthesize and produce food on their own, although it should be noted that adult orchid species continue to host some fungi in their roots.

The mycoheterotrophs take this to an extreme...they remain dependent on these fungi for their entire lives, often hosting their fungi in crystalline, coral-like modified root structures. These orchids are not parasites, as some of the other near-colorless woodland herbs (such as Indian Pipes, Beechdrops, and Squawroot), but they may still may receive some nutrients from trees. Recent studies suggest that beneath the soil is a vast network of fungal mycelia spanning from tree-to-tree-to-plant. Thus, almost all the plants in a forest are connected by this 'nutrient highway' that can funnel nutrients from one plant to another. The saprophytic orchids may very well intercept some of these nutrients being ferried around. Research also indicates that flowering stems do have small amounts of clorophyll, probably to provide extra nourishment to the developing seeds.

Corallorhiza wisteriana, known alternately as Spring Coral-root and Wister's Coral-root comes up in early spring into summer. Plants themselves are usually a clump of coralline roots that can reach a pretty impressive girth of 8 to 10 inches. Individual flowering stems come up sporadically from various parts of these plants.

Flowering can be quite spotty, and vary widely from year-to-year. One year, you may find dozens of flowering stems; while another may find you just a handful. Some suggest that intensity of flowering may be related to the strength of the late winter and early spring rains...more rain seems to mean more flowers. The flowering stems stand anywhere from 2 to 8 inches (5 to 20 cm) tall, bearing small flowers that might reach 1/3 inch (.8 cm) from top-to-bottom at the most. The sepals and petals form a hood-like structure over the lip and are a greenish-brown color. The lip contrasts nicely with these, being a snowy white with small purple spots. Flowers are rapidly pollinated (or perhaps self-pollinate) and do not last long.

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