Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Crested Coralroot - Hexalectris spicata   (Walter) Barnhart
Members of Orchidaceae:
Only member of Hexalectris in NC.
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Section 5 » Order Orchidales » Family Orchidaceae
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Author(Walter) Barnhart
DistributionScattered over the Mountains and the Piedmont; also present locally in the southwestern Coastal Plain and Sandhills, with disjunct records for Jones and Onslow counties in the lower Coastal Plain.

This is a Southern and mid-Southern species, but least common in the Coastal Plain. It occurs north to MD and MO, and south to central FL and much of TX.
AbundanceDespite its occurrence from at least 35 counties, this is a rare to locally uncommon species, probably declining owing to various factors, such as deer browse and possibly fire suppression. Very rare in the Coastal Plain part of the range. It is designated as Significantly Rare by the NC NHP. Most populations consist of only a few plants, and some counties certainly now have historical populations.
HabitatThis species grows mostly in moderately high pH soils of dry or upland hardwood or mixed forests. It favors Basic Oak-Hickory Forest and is not normally found in Basic Mesic Forest or Rich Cove Forest types. It is most common over gabbro or amphibolite rocks. In the Sandhills and southern Hoke County it occurs in acidic, loamy sand soil of sites protected from fire; in the lower Coastal Plain, it grows in rich forests over marl.
PhenologyBlooms mainly in July and August, and fruits shortly after flowering. It often is present above ground only for two or three months (June or July until late August), after which it "disappears".
IdentificationThis can be a difficult species to spot because it is saprophytic, lacking chlorophyll (and has no green color) and thus it blends into the background of the forest floor. It has a single herbaceous stem growing to 1-1.5 feet tall on average; the stem is pinkish to rusty-colored, and the top portion contains around 10 widely scattered, large flowers, about 1 inch across. Leaves are tiny and scale-like, hardly noticeable. The flowers are flesh to rusty colored, but there are usually purple stripes on the flowers. Thus, when in bloom, this is quite a striking plant, but as it is a rare species and is above ground for such a short period in late summer, it is difficult for a biologist to stumble onto them. As with many other saprophytic plants, such as Indian-pipe (Monotropa uniflora), a handful of plants can grow in close proximity. However, you are not likely to see more than 5-10 plants at any site. The only similar species is Puttyroot (Aplectrum hyemale), but that plant flowers in the first half of May, on average, and is either showing fruiting capsules by midsummer or has disappeared, leaving only a large basal leaf (which Hexalectris lacks).
Taxonomic CommentsNone

Other Common Name(s)Spiked Crested Coralroot
State RankS2
Global RankG5
State StatusSR-P
US Status
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Photo Gallery
Crystal CockmanTop of Little Long Mountain, Uwharrie NF, Montgomery County, July 18 2021. MontgomeryPhoto_natural
Joe Mickey2019-08-01. STMO. 16 plants found, all past bloom except for 1 flower. WilkesPhoto_natural
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