Friday, August 10, 2012

Native Orchid: Summer Coralroot

Summer Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata)

While on a recent hike I spotted an usual sight - a native orchid in bloom. I had never seen this plant before and had to ID it after the hike - good photos are always key to that! The plant was tiny and appeared to be possibly a parasitic plant since it had no leaves or green parts.

The plant I spotted was the blooming Summer Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata). This orchid's native range is much of the US and Canada, including NY State, but this is the first time I have ever spotted it. According to Wikipedia, it "is a myco-heterotroph; it lacks chlorophyll and gets food by parasitizing the mycelium of fungi in the family Russulaceae." I guess first impressions were correct!

Orchids are a special sight and one in bloom even more so.  Other than this plant and the alien orchid Epipactis helleborine, I've only seen wild, native orchids blooming in one location, Zurich Bog. I've found lady slipper plants (no blooms!) in a couple of other locations but that is it. Our native orchids are special as are the places they grow for these plants usually have very specific needs.  Poaching these plants for your own garden - very illegal given the rules of the parks and preserves they usually grow in - is unwise. Few gardens are going to meet the growing needs these plants have and the plants will die. Take only photos and leave the plants be.

Because this was such an unusual plant, I referenced my ethnobotanical sources to see if the Native peoples here used these plants. According to Moerman in Native American Ethnobotany, the local Iroquois people used this plant for:
  • Basket Medicine - Infusion of pounded root used as a basket medicine
  • Hunting Medicine - Root placed in a half cup of water and used to wash guns and clothes as a hunting medicine
  • Love Medicine - Infusion of pounded roots used as a love medicine
  • Tuberculosis Remedy - Compound infusion of roots taken for tuberculosis
  • Veterinary Aid - Infusion of whole plant added to horse's grain for heaves
  • Witchcraft Medicine - Infusion of pounded roots used as an anti-witch medicine
Looks like the Iroquois found this plant to be special as well given the number of ceremonial "medicine" uses of the plant.

For more information on this plant, see the links below. I have also included other photos below as well.

For more information:

Orchids of NY State:

Plants For a Future:


USDA Plants:

Other Images:
Entire Plant
Plant with author's hand for scale