Corallorhiza trifida Chatelain

Early coral-root, northern coral-root, pale coral-root

The specific epithet trifida is from the Latin meaning "divided in three parts," in reference to the tripartite labellum.

DESCRIPTION: Plant glabrous, 8-35 cm tall, arising from a branched, coralloid rhizome. Leaves reduced to several bladeless bracts sheathing the stem. Inflorescence a dense to lax terminal raceme, 5-20 flowered; each flower subtended by a small, lanceolate bract. Sepals linear-lanceolate, 3-6 mm long and 1-2 mm wide, yellowish-green to green, sometimes tinged with purple. Petals similar to sepals, connivent with dorsal sepal and forming a hood over the column. Labellum 3-lobed, obovate to oblong; 2.5-4 mm long and 2-3 mm wide, the margin undulate or crenulate, the base of the central portion with two fleshy ridges, the lateral lobes of the labellum small and acute, white or white spotted with dark purple.

Corallorhiza trifida is most likely to be confused with other species of Corallorhiza. It can be separated from C. odontorhiza and C. striata by its undivided labellum. C. trifida is most easily separated from C. maculata by looking at the innervation of the lateral sepals: they are prominently three-nerved in C. maculata, while they have only a single nerve in C. trifida. The two can also be separated by overall size (C. maculata is larger) and blooming date (C. maculata generally blooms later).

In northern Wisconsin, Corallorhiza trifida is found in a wide variety of habitats, from Thuja bogs to upland forest, both deciduous and coniferous. In the southern part of its range, it is usually restricted to moist or boggy sites.

May 15-July 1.


DISCUSSION: Taxonomists have sometimes recognized two varieties of Corallorhiza trifida: var. verna with green to yellowish green flowers and unspotted labella, and var. trifida, with purplish-tinged flowers and purple-spotted labella. These two varieties intergrade, however, so they are not recognized here. Despite this, I should point out that most plants in Wisconsin would probably be assigned to var. verna.

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