ghost orchid

Crested Coralroot (Hexalectris spicata)

Part of the Florida's Native and Naturalized Orchids Website

Classification:
  Kingdom:   Plantae - Plants
    Subkingdom:   Tracheobionta - Vascular Plants
      Superdivision:   Spermatophyta - Seed plants
        Division:   Magnoliophyta - Flowering plants
          Class:   Liliopsida - Monocotyledons
            Subclass:   Liliidae - Subclass containing lily and orchid relatives
              Order:   Orchidales - Orchid order
                Family:   Orchidaceae - Orchid Family
                  Subfamily:   Epidendroideae -
                    Tribe:   Arethuseae - Arethusoids
                      Subtribe:   Bletiinae - Bletia and related


Distribution Map:
Distribution map for Crested Coralroot (Hexalectris spicata)
Description:
Summary: These saprophytic plants consist of a coralline root bearing a single stalk with multiple one-inch-across (2.5 cm across) flowers. Flowers faintly fragrant of "baby powder" and are typically golden with red stripes with a white lip striped with purple. The lip bears seven crests on the midlobe.

Common Name: Crested Coralroot

Habitat: terrestrial inhabitant of semi-dry, live oak/pine forests, typically with a limestone underlayment.

Flowering season: May through July

Images:
 
Crested Coralroot (Hexalectris spicata) - Plants In Situ
Crested Coralroot (Hexalectris spicata) - Plants In Situ
Crested Coralroot (Hexalectris spicata) - Partial Closeup
Crested Coralroot (Hexalectris spicata) - Partial Closeup
Crested Coralroot (Hexalectris spicata) - closeup of several flowers.
Crested Coralroot (Hexalectris spicata) - closeup of several flowers.
Crested Coralroot (Hexalectris spicata)
Crested Coralroot (Hexalectris spicata)
Crested Coralroot (Hexalectris spicata) - albescent form.
Crested Coralroot (Hexalectris spicata) - albescent form.

Description:
 

This species is an inhabitant of semi-dry pine/oak/juniper communities, most often where there is a layer of limestone just beneath the surface. It is only seen occasionally within its range, perhaps as much attributable to its rarity as its ability to blend in exceedingly well with the forest floor environment where it makes its home. Surprisingly, where it is found, flowering stems numbering in the hundreds can be seen in a good year. Plants are seen sporadically within their habitat, probably resting for a year (or several) to regain strength from their associated fungi before making the effort again to flower. This seems to be typical of many of the coralroots.

When one does happen upon these rare orchids, then the true beauty of these flowers is revealed. Each is a little over an inch wide and scented pleasingly of baby powder when caught at the right time of day. I would consider this perhaps the second- or third-most attractive terrestrial orchid in the state of Florida (first is Cleistes bifaria, the Rosebud Orchid, which holds a special place in my heart as one of my first-observed native orchids).

The plants themselves bear no leaves, instead living in a mycotrophic relationship with fungi hosted (and consumed) in the coral-like roots. These fungi, in turn, send out mycelia throughout the soil and infect the roots of other plants, forming a network of nutrients funneled from one plant to another in a complex "nutrient highway" beneath the forest floor. While many orchids after the earliest seedling stage will bear leaves and begin to perform some of their own nutrient manufacture through photosynthesis, they never lose their fungal relationship entirely. The coralroots never grow beyond this earliest relationship, relying their entire lives on nutrients gathered from their fungi. Because of this delicate relationship, coralroots will die in short order if transplanted to another site.

The flowering stems are the only portion of the plant seen above ground, and are typically a bronze-pink with a light, plum-like frosting. The flowers are golden-brown with deeper red-purple pin-stripes in the sepals/petals. The lip, by contrast is white with purple stripes on it and bearing seven narrow crests, three on each side of a central crest. Atypical color forms consist of a pure white form (fma. wilderi P.M. Brown), a white-lipped form (fma. albolabia P.M. Brown) and a yellow-colored form with very light pink striping replacing the deeper purple-red.

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