Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Variation in the Spotted Coralroot

Corallorhiza maculata, the Spotted Coralroot, is not as variable as the Western Coralroot, Corallorhiza mertensiana, but there is still considerable variation here in the Pacific Northwest, including three varieties and five named color forms.  They are:

Variety #1 - the Spotted Coralroot (found in both the eastern and western United States and Canada.  This variety is distinguished by the lip which has parallel sides and by a later bloom time where it grows together with the Western Spotted Coralroot.

Corallorhiza maculata var. maculata - bronzy stems and purple spotted lip
("bronzy" covers considerable color variation in this case)

Corallorhiza maculata var. maculata fma. flavida - yellow stems and unspotted lip
(this is a form we have not seen)

Corallorhiza maculata var. maculata fma. aurea - yellow stems and spotted lip
(the forma aurea name is my own since this is not a named form)

Corallorhiza maculata var. maculata fma. rubra  - red stems and red-spotted lip
(in the Northwest this appears to us to be the most common form)

Variety #2 is the Western Spotted Coralroot, which is found across Canada but only in the Western United States.  This variety is distinguished by the rounded end or mid-lobe of the lip and by a slightly earlier bloom time where it grows with the ordinary Spotted Coralroot.

Corallorhiza maculata var. occidentalis - bronzy stems and spotted lip
(here again "bronzy" covers considerable color variation)

Corallorhiza maculata var. occidentalis fma. aurea - yellow stems and spotted lip

Corallorhiza maculata var. occidentalis fma. immaculata - yellow stems and unspotted lip

Corallorhiza maculata var. occidentalis fma. punicea - red stems and spotted lip

Unamed Color Forms
(the last looks a lot like var. ozettensis)

Variety #3 is found only in Washington and British Columbia, was only recently described (2001) and is quite rare, found only in a few locations on the Olympic Peninsula, Whidbey Island, Vancouver Island and the middle of British Columbia.  It is known as the Ozette Coralroot after the location in which it was first found.  This variety is distinguished by the unspotted lip, greenish flowers and flowering time.

Corallorhiza maculata var. ozettensis - purple-red stems and unspotted lip

The third variety is very distinct, but the other two seem to grade into each other and it is not easy to tell them apart unless one visits repeatedly an area where both grow.  Then it becomes evident that the Spotted Coralroot blooms slightly later than the Western Spotted though there is some overlap, and tends to have smaller flowers and predominantly red stems (fma. rubra), at least in this area.

As can be seen from the photos, there is considerable variation also in flower color and in the spotting of the lip and flowers.  While some flowers are free of spotting except on the lip others are spotted especially on the petals and the lips vary from fine and dense spotting to sparse and coarse, many lips having almost no spotting on the mid-lobe and others a single reddish-purple spot.

this is variety maculata

these are variety occidentalis



  1. Maravilhosas plantas e Divinas imagens.
    obrigado por compartilhar

    1. Thank you my friend. Thanks for your kind comments regarding the pictures, and the plants are indeed marvelous, especially the fact that they are leafless and without chlorphyll.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks for looking and commenting.

  3. Terrific pictures again. My favorite is the one of "var. occidentalis fma. punicea". Did you use a flash for that one?

    Very varying species. Very nice. What is the typical size? 25cm? They do look kinda big... much bigger than our "trifida".

    1. I rarely use a flash in the field and did not on the picture you mentioned. I always use a tripod and a remote shutter release, and try to get by with that, not always so easy if the light is low and there's a breeze.

      As to size these are more in the neighborhood of 30-45 cm, even 50 cm, much larger than C. trifida, and C. mertensiana is usually a bit taller than that, up to 60 cm.

  4. Same for me. I really only use flash, if there is no other way. A buddy of mine is quite good at letting flash look natural. However I never picked up his technique.

    I agree that tripod or beanbag is obligatory most of the time. I also use a cable release.

    Amazing that those coralroots get so big.

    1. Yes! My problem with flash is that it doesn't look natural to me, and I have the same problem with artificial backgrounds, tents, etc. I much prefer to do with out them, though I've tried using some of these thing.

      There's going to be a brief article I've written in the December issue of Orchids (AOS) about photographing orchids in the field along with one of my photos.

  5. Super comparison of the different Corallorhiza, Ron! I need to get up to speed with these. This article really helps. So, I think that I have a photo of C. maculata var. occidentalis fma. immaculata (in retrospect - I thought it was C. trifida):
    I need a better manual for orchids....

    1. Thanks for looking, Clare. As I noted in my email, Andrew is correct. What you photographed is not C. trifida, but a yellow form of C. maculata, a very nice find and fairly rare. The identification of it as var. occidentalis, I'm not so sure about, but will get back to you on that.

  6. Great photos. I'm interested in the Ozette coralroot. Do you have any references stating that they have been found on Whidbey and British Columbia? Have you seen them there yourself? That middle of BC location sound weird given where else it has been found. Thanks.

    1. Hi Scott. Thanks for your interest. The find on Whidbey Island is documented in Paul Martin Brown, Wild Orchid of the Pacific Northwest and Canadian Rockies, as well as on this blog. All the photos I have of this species were taken at different locations on Whidbey (I know of three). As to Vancouver Island, Tom Nelson, who has a a lot of pictures on pbase has seen and photographed it there ( The find in Central BC was reported a couple of years ago and the information can be found here: This species is much more widespread than first believed.

  7. Quite a lovely little lesson, Ron. Beautifully done and photo grahed. as always, in awe of your work. Kudos and congrats on the AOS article. I'll be looking forward to it ; )

    1. Thanks, Beatriz. You'll have to look for the article in the back issues. I believe it was published in 2012.

  8. Oh my goodness, I'm just a little behind the times. Lol! Will do.

    1. No problem. Really my fault for posting these old articles.