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Striped Coralroot

If you keep a sharp eye out as you stroll this ridge, you might see a slender, dull purplish plant growing out of the dry leaf litter on this and other trails in northeastern Country. It is the striped coralroot, a saprophytic orchid that shows no trace of green. Lacking chlorophyll and the ability to produce its own energy, the striped coralroot gets its nourishment from organic material in the soil’s humus layer. The slender, leafless stalk, growing 8-20 inches tall, bears 10-20 very small purplish-red flowers that bloom in July and August. The name comes from the resemblance of the much branched rootstock to coral.

The striped coralroot doesn’t fit the image most people have of orchids being lovers of a hot climate. In central North America, its range is restricted to the rich soils found in the forests of Ontario, Quebec, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Country.

Other saprophytes found in our region include the pinesap and Indian pipe; however, these are not orchids. They belong to the Indian pipe family. These two plants get their energy from fungi that grow in association with the roots of trees such as oaks and pines. The pinesap is a red, pink, or yellow plant with nodding flowers that make it look like a miniature candlesnuffer. The Indian pipe is white with a translucent stem and a single nodding flower. When the Indian pipe’s fruit ripens, or when it is picked, the plant turns black. For this reason it is also known as the corpse-plant according to Mrs. William Starr Dana, who also notes that Indians used it as an eye-lotion.

At the northern section of the trail, it passes a small pond from which frogs may sing like sirens trying to lure you into the woods, away from the security of the trail. Here the trail is at its wettest, but it is not too bad and your boots will dry quickly as you climb the last ridge that will take you south and back to the trailhead.

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