Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Death Eaters at the VIC

How could something so small and delicate have such a gruesome reputation? Here it is: early coral root (Corallorhiza trifida), one of nature's saprophytic plants. (That there is my finger next to it, to give you an idea of size).

Up close, it's really a beautiful little thing, an orchid in miniature. But, despite its greenish color, this plant cannot make its own food. Instead, it gets it nourishment from dead and/or decaying matter, hence the term saprophyte.

Our interns and I stumbled across this flowering death eater (ha ha - couldn't resist - and yes, I am a Harry Potter fan) along the Rich Lake Trail this rainy afternoon. We found not just one, but several, some growing singly, others in little clusters.

I love saprophytic plants - they are lovely, unusual, and fill an important niche in our world. Beauty is everywhere - even tiny - even in death.


  1. How lucky you were to have found this little orchid! I found it once 8 years ago near Pyramid Lake but never again. Are many -- or most -- orchids saprophytic? I know some, like lady's slippers, depend on soil fungi to help them obtain nourishment. Is that part of the saprophytic process?

  2. It seems that a very small number of orchids are saprophytic. All orchids depend on mycorrhizal fungi for at least some stage in their lives (like germination), but some remain totally dependent on them for nourishment for their whole lives. Check out the article at