Striped Coralroot (Corallorhiza striata)
We find coral roots, except for this striped species, faithful companions that reward those that closely scan the pine-needle floors throughout the wilderness areas of the Pacific Northwest. It’s puzzling that our guidebooks list this mycotrophic plant as relatively common, while most report Phantom Orchids, Candy Stick, and Indian Pipe as more rare . Our experience is just the opposite. Of the literally hundreds of these chlorophyll-lacking plant colonies we’ve seen in over 8 years of wildflower blogging, we’ve seen a grand total of 3 Striped Coral root plants.
Despite their ability to stay well hidden within the deep shade of fir forests, we find them one of the most attractive of the non-green plants. The characteristic orchid ‘hood’ has a strident red stripe pattern punctuated with a yellow center.
This US Forest Service website does a great job of explaining how these ghostly plants, which don’t photosynthesize, survive by striking unfair chemical bargains with compatible trees and fungi (water & minerals for carbohydrates & amino acids). You can also check out our own 10 mycotrophic wildflower posts, spanning 3 families — Broomrape (Ground Cones), Orchid (Coral Roots including this post), and Heath (Phantom Orchids, Candy Stick, Indian Pipe, Pinesap , Fringed Pinesap, and Pinedrops). The website makes an interesting contrast between these mycotrophic or “other feeding” plants, and autotrophic or “own-feeding” (regular sun-fed) plants. They also use the amusing common name “fungus flowers”.
A second US Forest Service website on Corallorhiza, notes that coral roots are almost entirely restricted to North and Central America, and are especially diverse in Mexico.