published July 27, 2011
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An inflorescence of Ozette Coralroot,
text and photos by Ron Hanko
Corallorhiza maculata (Raf.) Raf. var. ozettensis Tischer
This rare orchid was discovered in 1967 and first described in 2001 by Mr. Ed Tisch of Port Angeles, Washington. It was found in one location in Clallam County on the Olympic Peninsula in the coastal forests of that county. It was thought, at the time of its discovery, to be confined to that one county, but has since been discovered in several locations across the water on Whidbey Island. It was discovered there in 2002 by a young lady named Chelsea Kieffer while studying at the Pacific Rim campus of the Au Sable Institute on that island. She found it in the woods on the property of the Institute.
Last year, Chelsea visited Washington again with several other members of her family and led a group from the Washington Native Orchid Society to see this orchid at the Au Sable Institute. I was privileged to be a part of that group and to share Chelsea’s continued excitement over her discovery. Later that day, at another location much further north, near Deception Pass, we found this orchid once again at a new location and were able to feel some of the excitement of this new discovery.
Western Spotted Coralroot, Corallorrhiza maculata var. occindentalis
Plants are from eight inches to two feet tall and have bright reddish-purple stems. The plants we saw had from six to twenty-six flowers that completely lacked the spotting of the other two varieties, the Spotted and the Western Spotted Coralroot. The flowers were the same color as the stem on the exterior, but opened a greenish color on the inside with green petals lightly striped in red-purple, a white lip, and a yellow column. As with all the other Coralroots, plants are leafless, sending up flowering stems in June and July, and leaving no trace except dead spikes when finished flowering. It is thought to be saprophytic, getting its nourishment not through photosynthesis, but from the roots of other plants and by means of a soil fungus. Its root looks like a piece of coral, hence its name. This unique plant was named after the Ozette Indians who were the original occupants of the land on which it was first found. I am not a taxonomist and have to trust the judgment of those who know better than I, but this plant looks so different from the other Spotted Coralroots, that it is hard to believe they are not entirely different species. It is considered “of special concern” by the USDA.
Flower closeup: Ozette Coralroot,
Corallorhiza maculata var. ozettensis Photo: © Ron Hanko.
(1) All the colonies discovered in Clallam County on the Olympic Peninsula were found at 300 meters from the ocean.
(2) In his book, Wild Orchids of the Pacific Northwest And Canadian Rockies, Paul Martin Brown states that this variety is always found in pure colonies, but the plants on Whidbey Island were not in such colonies, but growing among and with other plants of the Western Spotted Coralroot.
A plant growing in and deriving most of its nourishment from decaying organic matter, often apparently lacking in chlorophyl.
Below: Ozette Coralroot inflorescences emerging, Deception Pass