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Coralroot: Myco-Heterotrophic Plants Living in the Redwood Forest

My husband and I were out exploring the redwoods a few weeks ago and I kept spotting the most unusual duo of very similar, yet slightly differing plants... They appeared as a series of tall leafless slender pink stalks with beautifully intricate orchid-like flowers clustered upon their upper ends like corn-on-the-cob. They reminded me of the "Snow Plant", a myco-heterotrophic plant that is found in the Sierras and other areas of CA, OR, and NV (a plant I've yet to find myself but that is on my bucket list!). I snapped some photos of the flowers I spotted for later research.

Little did I know I was onto something!

When I got home, I immediately uploaded my photos to iNaturalist to see what I'd found.

Sure enough, I'd found "Pacific Coralroot" and "Spotted Coralroot"--two myco-heterotrophic plants!

Okay, hold on... What is a myco-heterotrophic plant??

A myco-heterotrophic plant is unique in that it does not get its energy from photosynthesis and instead gets most or all of its food by parasitizing of fungi. Coralroot, in particular, depends solely on mycorrhizal fungi for sustenance. I find this especially interesting. Mycorrhizal fungi derive their nutrients from the plants and trees around them, so in a way, the fungi are in this case serving as a delivery agent for the coralroot's nutrients! Both of the species of coralroot I discovered specifically parasitize fungi from the Russulaceae family. Curiously, these "plants" don't even have roots, and because of their unusual dependence on fungi, it is noted that they cannot be cultivated. The only place you will ever see coralroot is in the forest!

How cool is that??

Here are a few photos of the two species I found:

Pacific Coralroot

(Corallorhiza mertensiana)

Spotted Coralroot

(Corallorhiza maculata)


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