Plant of the day: spotted coralroot

Small, leafless coralroot plants may easily go unnoticed, as they blend in to the forest floor. But sharp-eyed hikers will spot these diminutive orchids growing in the understory, often beneath redwoods. What’s really nifty about Corallorhiza maculata is that they don’t photosynthesize – they don’t have any chlorophyll at all. Instead they depend entirely on mycorrhizal fungi for their food. The fungi, in turn, get much of their nutrients from a symbiotic relationship with nearby trees. Plants that feed on fungi in this way are called “mycotropic.”

In addition to spotted coralroot, striped coralroot also grows in Marin. Unlike the orchid-like flowers of its spotted cousin (which has several brownish petals above a pale tongue with dark burgandy patches) the petals of striped coralroot all look quite similar – and they are (you guessed it) noticeably striped.

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