Saturday, August 7, 2010

Western Coralroot (Corallorhiza mertensiana)

The Western Coralroot is certainly aptly named since it is found only in the far west of the United States and Canada, primarily along the Pacific coast from Alaska to California and east only as far as Montana and Wyoming.

In our experience this is the most widespread of all the Coralroots, growing from sea level to much higher elevations and often found in profusion where it is growing.  We have seen it by the thousands in several locations.

It generally grows in rather dark forests where little else is growing on the forest floor and amid a litter of dead branches and decaying trunks.  Like all Coralroots it is leafless and saprophytic or more accurately, mycotrophic, depending on a fungus for its nourishment.

The usual color form has purplish stems and flowers that are bird-like in form.  The stems are generally about 45 cm tall and carry up to 35 flowers.  The lips vary from a solid purple to a purple and white that appears to be striped.

There are two named color forms, forma albolabia, which has no purple color at all, and forma pallida, which has very pale pink stems but retains some of the purple color.  This latter color form is quite common, but stands out on the forest floor even more dramatically than the normally colored form.

C. mertensiana fma. albolabia

C. mertensiana fma. pallida (below also)

In fact there are found so many color variations, that with the exception of the albolabia form, none of them really deserves to be called a form.  The stems vary from a very dark reddish purple to pale lavender, from off white to tan to a yellowish color.  The lips vary from nearly solid red-purple to lips that have varying amounts of white, and from striped to spotted.  The tepals from pale yellowish white through lavender and tan to a very deep red-purple and all of these in every possible combination.

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