Friday, August 21, 2009

Late Coralroot (Corallorhiza odontorhiza)

This strange and interesting little saprophytic orchid is occasional on trail edges in the Indiana Dunes region. Especially at home in oak woods with deep humus, it tends to frequent the same places as other saprophytes: Spotted Coralroot Orchid (Corallorhiza maculata), Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora), and Pinesap (Monotropa hypopithys).

The plant in the photo is somewhat unusual in having its flowers open with a well-developed lip. They are often cleistogamous - that is, unopened and self-fertilizing. Some suggest they may even set seed without fertilization (google the terms “apomixis” and “apogamy”).

Coralroots have rhizomes (underground stems), but would you believe this plant has no roots? Like other saprophytes, it releases digestive enzymes into the surrounding humus, then absorbs the products of this “external digestion.” Strange…and wonderful!

Photographed at Sebert Woods in LaPorte County, August 13, 2009.

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