Saturday, 20 May 2017

Coral root orchid

This beautiful little plant is the rare Coral Root Orchid (Corallorhiza trifida).  It is found in only a handful of sites in England, one of them being in Gosforth Park Nature Reserve, a mile from here.  Even here there are only a few flower spikes each year.  The plant is tiny and is very exacting in its requirements.  It grows here in damp birch wood in what used to be the lake.  It is a saprophyte - its underground rhizomes derive much of their nutrition from fungus that grows on birch roots - but it also has some chlorophyll and, although it has no leaves, it is capable of photosynthesis.  The tiny flowers at the top of each 15cm stem are mostly self-fertile but limited cross-pollination does occur.  It is in flower just now but the flowers are short-lived and most of the time the plant is invisible underground.

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