Saturday, June 22, 2013

Eleventh Week of the Native Orchid Season - Three Coralroots and Two Neottias

June 16-22

Just one brief excursion this week to a trail in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest where I knew I could find the Early Coralroots, Corallorhiza trifida, blooming.  I found the Western Spotted Coralroot, Corallorhiza maculata var. occidentalis, and the Western Coralroot, Corallorhiza mertensiana, as well and two Neottias, the Western Heart-leaved Twayblade, Neottia cordata var. nephrophylla, and the Northwestern Twayblade, Neottia banksiana or caurina.

The Early Coralroot, Corallorhiza trifida, is, all other things being equal, one of the earliest orchids to bloom in the spring, often blooming with the Fairy Slippers.  But spring comes late in the mountains and the only sites I know for this species are in the mountains, so we are well into the native orchid season before we see these in bloom.  It is a small plant, usually less than 30 cm with 1 cm flowers, the smallest and hardest to find of all the Coralroot species that grow in the area.

The Western Coralroot, Corallorhiza mertensiana, grows in abundance at a slightly lower elevation and in drier and darker areas and is found in its usual wide range of colors.  I found it in colors that ranged from a deep pink through off-white and tan, and even some spikes that were pale yellow with nearly white flowers, not quite the alba form of the species but very close.  It  is always a delight to see this species in all its different color forms, and it seemed more abundant this year.

The Western Spotted Coralroots I found were just beginning to bloom and all seemed to be the brown stemmed form, Corallorhiza maculata var. occidentalis fma. intermedia.  The plants were also very small, as were the flowers - not nearly so robust as others we had seen earlier in the year - but perhaps that has something to do with location and elevation.  There were a few Coralroots with reddish stems that seemed more robust but they were not yet blooming.

The Western Heart-leaved Twayblade, Neottia cordata var. nephrophylla, was blooming in the same area as the Western Coralroots.  This is a very common species and often carpets open and sunny areas, but was not nearly that abundant in this location. There is a reddish form of this species but I found only plants with green flowers.  I had found it at lower elevations earlier in the season but it was already finished flowering and so I did not take photos.

I also found one plant of the Northwestern Twayblade, Neottias banksiana (old name: Listera caurina).  A little later in the season, it, too, can be found along every trail in the area, but it was nice to see one plant blooming early.  Like Listera cordata, it is a small plant with small flowers, the plants all less than 15 cm and the flowers around 1 cm in size, not plants that are quickly noticed, especially when one is looking for other things.  I may, therefore, have missed some.


  1. Thanks for showing the small treasures of the northwestern flora.

    Very good pictures once again.
    The excellent pictures of that early coralroots group are my favorites. I myself have seen the first coralroots this year in austria in 1300m above sea level (during a Nigritella-orchid field trip). In my area we have it blooming early may, which I missed. So we experience the same. It is one of the earliest orchids here too.

    Also: I am a huge fan of the small Twayblade species. To me they look like fairies dancing around a pole. Thanks for sharing your pictures and experiences.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Martin. I saw the Corallorhiza trifida at lower elevations in the Edmonton area a couple of weeks ago and it was long finished, blooming much earlier there than in the mountains further south.

      The Twayblades are indeed delightful. We have three species, two very common and one very rare, here in Washington, and there is a fourth that grows in BC further north. There are also several varieties and color forms.

    2. We only have one Corallorhiza (trifida) and two Twayblades. We have what we call "small" Twayblade (Listera cordata), which is very rare in most states and the "big" Twayblade (Listera ovata), which is indeed big and also abundant in every state. In fact I find it on almost every orchid field trip.

      The former is more delicate and to me more beautiful in the way it hides itself in moist areas sometimes beneath Equisetum growing in moss patches.

      The latter is still beautiful, but lacks the magic and grows everywhere. Kind of like E. heleborine I'd say.

    3. Listera cordata has two varieties here, var. nephrophylla, and var. cordata, and both of them have red and green color forms, the red form far more common with var. cordata and the green form the more common with the other variety. Nephrophylla is the variety found in our area and is very common. There are places where it grows so thickly it is impossible to walk without stepping on many of them. We have seen it in places where it must number in the millions. Still a charming little species, though.