I went for a walk this morning to survey the perimeter of the deer fence. We spent some time a week ago reinforcing the fence along the ground as we’d seen more evidence of the deer pushing underneath. This morning’s walk was to see if any deer had succeeded in breaching our reinforced defenses.
As I was wandering around outside the fence, I took note of the few plants that are blooming at the moment, including the last of the Viola ocellata, some vetch, and tarweed.
Then, as I was staring at the ground, I found this delicate little native orchid species hiding near a madrone that had fallen this past winter. Although to be honest, the flowers were so tiny, that I almost missed it completely.
Corallorhiza maculata belongs to the Orchidaceae family, and is a native perennial found throughout much of the United States and Canada. Common names include spotted coralroot, or summer coralroot.
This particular orchid species lacks chlorophyll, and as such, it has no leaves. It is a parasitic species, growing in association with, and dependent on, the mycelium of Russulacea fungi. A few Russula cremoricolor were found growing near this area during this past winter.
Corallorhiza maculata is one of four species of Coralroot found in California, and reportedly the most common wild orchid found in this state, and has been documented in more than 40 counties. It is usually one of the first of the native orchid species in California to bloom, and also blooms the longest, usually between June and August. Due to its long flowering cycle, it is not uncommon to find emerging stems, flowering stems, and ripe seed capsules adjacent to each other.
This species grows 40-50 cm tall, with some as tall as 80 cm. On average each leafless stem bears 20-30 flowers. Its common name, spotted coral-root, comes from the white, three-lobed lip on the flower that is often, although not always, spotted with red to purple spots. The unspotted flowers, like the ones growing here, are a known variant of this species.
Corallorhiza maculata prefers dry, open forests, growing in the litter of conifers and oaks. Here it is growing beneath California bay laurel, madrone, Douglas fir, and tanbark oak. It is also reportedly one of only two species of native wild orchids that grow in the non-native eucalyptus groves commonly seen throughout California.
Historically there have been numerous uses of this plant by native peoples. The Paiute and Shoshoni reportedly used an infusion of dried stalks to ‘build up the blood’ of pneumonia patients. The Iroquois used an infusion of pounded roots as a love medicine, an anti-witch medicine, and as a treatment for tuberculosis. The Navajo apparently used an infusion of this plant as a lotion to treat skin diseases, including ringworm.
In case you’re wondering, our deer fence does finally seem to be keeping our curious cervids on the outside of the fence around the orchard…at least for now. Not that we don’t still have deer here though! This adorable little fellow was sighted outside the office this morning while his mother was browsing on a nearby bay laurel tree.
Stay out of the orchard little one…
 Daniel E. Moerman’s Native American Ethnobotanical Database