Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Autumn Coralroot - Corallorhiza odontorhiza   (Willdenow) Poiret
Members of Orchidaceae:
Members of Corallorhiza with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 5 » Order Orchidales » Family Orchidaceae
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Author(Willdenow) Poiret
DistributionOccurs throughout the Mountains and Piedmont, to the Fall Line. Also present in a few scattered areas in the northern half of the Coastal Plain, sparingly south to Jones County. Absent from the southern 40-50% of the Coastal Plain, including the Sandhills.

This species occurs over most of the Eastern states and southeastern Canada. It ranges south to central GA and AR; however, there are scattered records south to northern FL, and thus is present in all states west through the Great Plains.
AbundanceFormerly fairly common to common in the Mountains and much of the Piedmont; however, it has decreased alarmingly in the past few decades, and it is mainly uncommon to infrequent in these regions now. Rare to uncommon, and certainly declining, in the Coastal Plain. It is no longer a Watch List species, as th eNCNHP removed it from that status in late 2022.
HabitatThis species has such a wide array of forested habitats that it is impossible to target for searching. It usually occurs in mesic to somewhat moist mixed or hardwood forests -- in "ordinary-looking" places. It can occur in bottomlands as well as in uplands, under a variety of canopy trees. It is not found in overly dry or sandy sites, however.
PhenologyThis is a late-blooming orchid, flowering in August and especially in September, and fruiting in September and October.
IdentificationThis is a small saprophytic species that can be hard to spot in the forests where it occurs. Its single brown to purple stem grows only to an average of 6-9 inches tall, very rarely to 1 foot tall. It has around 10-12 scattered flowers along the upper 1/3 or 1/4 of the stem. Each flower is narrow and tubular, with pale greenish sepals and petals, often with a purple tint, and a small white lip with purple spotting; however, each flower is barely 1/4-1/3 inch long, so you should identify the species by its overall tiny appearance. Upon flowering, each flower quickly droops downward toward the stem, appearing quite swollen. As you might imagine, finding the species requires a sharp eye, during autumn walks (best seen well into September and October); there are no leaves, and the species does not usually grow in large colonies, mostly just as scattered individuals or groups up to about ten individuals. Ten or twenty years ago, such findings were not uncommon, but for whatever reasons -- deer browse? -- finding the species in the past ten years has been more difficult. There should be no identification problems with this species, as Spring Coralroot (C. wisteriana) is long gone (underground after May) by the time this species emerges, and Spotted Coralroot (C. maculata) is much taller and more robust and grows mainly in midsummer and late summer.
Taxonomic CommentsNone

Other Common Name(s)Fall Coralroot, Small-flowered Coralroot
State RankS3S4
Global RankG5
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US Status
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B.A. Sorrie.Photo taken in western MA in 1980s. Photo_non_NCPhoto_non_NC

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