Skip to main content

U.S. Forest Service

Coralroot Orchids

Those Cheating Hearts

An unfortunate mycorrhizal fungus enters into a “committed but unloving relationship” with a mycotrophic wildflower. The fungus unconditionally befriends and nurtures its compatriot Corallorhiza never once to receive even a glimmer of friendship, respect, or thank you in return. Welcome to “those cheating hearts,” the coralroot orchids.

In our second installment of exploring the world of mycotrophic wildflowers, we examine the subtle beauty of the coralroot orchids in the genus Corallorhiza. As with most mycotrophic wildflowers, most coralroot orchids do not photosynthesize—except for Corallorhiza trifida—spending most of their existence underground until the time comes to emerge from below ground, flower, and set seed. Coralroot orchids obtain the nutrients, minerals, and water they need to survive by parasitizing a mycorrhizal fungus that absorbs the nutrients they both require from a photosynthetic plant, which gets water and minerals from the mycorrhizal fungus in return.

Corallorhiza maculata

About Coralroot Orchids

What are coralroot orchids?

Corallorhiza wisteriana

Subtle Beauty

The beauty of a coralroot orchid can blend into the background of a shady forest floor of brown leaves and/or needles.