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Vol. 6(10), pp. 5-7The McAllen International Orchid Society JournalOctober 2005

Corallorrhiza maculata--A Wisconsin Encounter

Gladys R Miller

What a wonderful little book "Orchids of Manitoba" by Doris Ames et al! Finally we see a picture in color of the "funny little brown Pelican Lake orchid" as it was dubbed when it was first discovered by this group of novices.

Fig. 1. Map of Pelican Lake. Note Indian Point in lower left-center of scan. Scan of brochure 05 October, 2005.

Indian Point, Pelican Lake, Oneida County, Wisconsin is Latitude 45° 30' and Longitude 89° 12' with elevations between about 525 to 600 meters (1600 & 1800 ft.) above sea level (Fig. 1). The soil is sandy, rocky and acidic with clay 3 or more feet below the surface. Drainage is good. One third of Indian Point, on the south side of Pelican Lake, has been in the Miller family since 1936, twenty some years after Corallorrhiza maculata was first reported to the University of Wisconsin "In a stand of hemlock."

We locals knew nothing of much of these specifics about Corallorrhiza maculata until this past week when we found it listed in the Jeffrey R. Hapeman's CD publication of the orchids of Wisconsin. A whole new world has opened unto us! Until this time our only frame of reference has been a black & white photo of the "Large Coralroot" listed in Wild Flowers by H. D. House (1934).

Fig. 2. Corallorrhiza maculata variety maculata. Indian Point--Pelican Lake, Wisconsin. 35mm transparency #C-6 19 July, 2005.

At this time, July 26, 2005, there are 14 plants in an area approximately half an acre; usually growing in clusters of 1 to 3. The stems are 6 to 15 inches high and have no green color or leaves, which led us to assume parasitic or saprophytic habit for the plants. They are presently in varying stages of flower to seed development. The flowers, 8 to 20, form a terminal raceme 5 to 15 cm. (2 to 6 inches) long. The flowers are purplish, with the sepals and petals about 4 mm. (a sixth of an inch) long or less, marked with purple lines. The lip is entire or denticulate; white, and spotted with purple (Fig. 2).

It is locally assumed that pollination occurs by a bee. However we've never verified this. The seed pods (capsules) develop bottom to top, following the same sequence that the flowers do as they mature. Seed capsules are oblong; 3 to 5 mm. long (a third to a half an inch), and hang downward with the dried flower held distally.

Fig. 3. Corallorrhiza maculata variety maculata. (Part-inflorescence; flowers about twice life size) 35mm transparency #C-17 19 July, 2005.

While checking for plants today, under a group of 4 young Hemlock trees were 5 plants in a space of 3 square feet, growing out of dried deciduous leaves of Oak (white, red and pin) Maple (red & sugar) and Birch trees, all of which were growing well above the mature Hemlock trees overhead. Going back to look again, ALL of the Corallorrhiza maculata plants were growing under Hemlock trees in leaves of deciduous growth that was well above. The ground is cool and in shaded areas but is dry. All are well above the shore of the lake and away from the Sphagnum & Club mosses that grows in the lower open areas, but with their size and color, they're not readily noticeable (Fig. 3)! Any of you who have hunted Corallorrhiza maculata know that they are sneaky little buggers and will only show to a discerning eye. As a neighbor (who has lived nearby all of her life) said "I have never seen that flower and would have just thought something had just dried up and left the stem standing there."

The first plants were rediscovered in 1982. Were they here and seen by nobody, or were they waiting for the woods to change again? About 1930 there had been a forest fire. By 1955, when I started coming here, the woods were comprised primarily of many Birch trees with hard wood trees just coming up and young (you couldn't see through them). Prowling around with the camera (when Corallorrhiza maculata was spotted again), and comparing old pictures from about 25 years ago with new ones, it struck all of us that the woods had changed,...a lot! The most obvious thing was that you could see through the trees. Many of the birch had grown old and fallen or were the standing dead while the hard woods were up, big, tall and in the majority. Among the mature trees now are the maples (sugar, red, black) Oaks (black, northern red and northern pin), pines (white, Norway, red) cedar (white, arbor vitae) and Eastern Hemlocks which are many!

Are the hemlocks what our stands of Corallorrhiza maculata have needed or wanted? We're not sure, and one trouble with getting any little bit of information is that it always gives rise to more questions. Further, the answers to those questions are often hard to find! Can anyone out there enlighten us? The local public library facilities are extremely limited when it comes to orchid literature, and our personal orchid library is scant,...but along with our interest, it's growing.

At any rate, we, here in the northern woods of Wisconsin, think it's particularly nice that the MIOS Journal is spreading the word. Thank You.


Ames, D. and Peggy Blanchard Acheson, Lorne Heshka, Bob Joyce, Joun Neufeld, Richard Reeves, Eugene Reimer, and Ian Ward. 2005. The Orchids of Manitoba, a field guide. Winnipeg, Manitoba: The Native Orchid Conservation, Inc. 158pp.

Hapeman, J. R. 1999. The Orchids of Wisconsin. (Compact Disc) Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Department of Botany.

House, J. D. 1934. Wild Flowers. Albany, New York: J. B. Lyon Company.

Copyright © 2005 Gladys R Miller