Coralroot Blooms in the Courtyard

by | Mar 4, 2016 | Native Plants

Some of our most beautiful flowers are fleeting, rare and easy to overlook. Take this spring coralroot (Corallorhiza wisteriana), now pushing its bloom spikes up from the depths of the soil in a garden bed near our Store.

This rather brown plant might not inspire a second look, but lean in a bit closer. This orchid doesn’t have the big showy blooms like many of its relatives, but its diminutive pinkish white flowers are pretty in their own right.

Perhaps more noteworthy, orchids in the genus Corallorhiza are called coralroots because they have an underground mass of rhizomes that resemble coral. These orchids lack green pigmentation because they don’t have chlorophyll. Instead, they get all of their nutrients by parasitizing fungi that are parasitizing other plants. So, the coralroots are kind of hitchhiking on the backs of another parasite. (Did you catch that? Nerd alert: this is called myco-heterotrophy.)

“These orchids are not exactly rare,” says program manager Joe Marcus, “but their ability to visually blend with leaf litter makes them very often overlooked.”

Both Marcus and horticulture director Andrea DeLong-Amaya say that this plant has only bloomed here a few times in the last decade. It wasn’t planted in the garden, but it somehow made its way there. And though it is always found in that garden bed, it pops up in different locations every time.

Though orchids are often associated with more tropical locales, 54 species are native to Texas.

Come take a look at this one while you can. It might not pop up again for a few years…