This terrestrial orchid develops a single basal leaf during the fall
that persists through the winter until the flowering period beginning
in late spring. This basal leaf is 3½-8" long and 1-3" across; it is
broadly elliptic or oblong-ovate in shape and smooth along the margins.
The orientation of the basal leaf is ascending to horizontal with the
ground. The upper leaf surface is dark green with fine white veins
and glabrous; the veins are parallel to each other. The lower leaf
surface is green, purplish green, or dull purple. At the base of the
leaf, there is a short petiole that pokes above the ground surface.
This basal leaf originates from the oldest corm of the root system.
During the late spring or early summer, the basal leaf withers away and
a raceme of flowers about 6-20" tall is sometimes produced. Each raceme
will have about 8-16 flowers; they are laxly distributed along the
flowering stalk. A large majority of plants fail
to produce flowers during any given year, either because they are too
small and immature, or environmental conditions are unfavorable.
flowering stalk is pale green or pale purplish green, terete, and
glabrous; it is surrounded by a tight basal sheath toward its base.
The flowers are about ¾-1" long and a little less across, consisting of
3 sepals, 3
petals, and the reproductive organs; nectar spurs are lacking.
spread outward from the center of the flower to a greater or lesser
degree, and they are more or less equally spaced from each other. These
sepals are narrowly oblanceolate or narrowly oblong, pale green or pale
yellow, becoming purplish toward their tips. The two upper petals are
oblanceolate or narrowly oblong and colored similarly to the sepals;
these petals are adjacent to each other,
functioning as a protective hood over the reproductive organs. The
petal is the lip of the flower; it is oblanceolate or obovate and
primarily white with speckles of purple or magenta. The lip is
depressed in its
center and its margins are elevated and undulate. The relatively stout
pedicels of the
flowers are about ¾" long, while the floral bracts are less than ¼"
long and early-deciduous. The blooming period lasts about 2-3 weeks
spring to early summer) and the flowers lack noticeable fragrance. In
the absence of insect pollination, they are self-fertile.
Afterwards, the flowers are replaced by seed capsules about ¾-1" long
that are broadly ellipsoid in shape with multiple narrow ridges along
their sides. These capsules nod downward from their pedicels along the
raceme; later in the year, they split open to release abundant tiny
seeds. These seeds are easily distributed to new areas via wind
The root system consists of 1-4 bulbous corms that are
connected by slender rhizomes. These corms are up to 1" across and
individually they can persist for 2 years. On a healthy plant, a new
corm is produced each year. Fibrous roots originate from the bases of
the corms. Small colonies of clonal plants can develop from
of these corms.
The preference is dappled sunlight
during the fall, winter, and spring; light levels during the summer are
unimportant because live leaves are not present during this time of
Significant photosynthesis can occur in temperatures that are only
slightly above freezing. The root system of this orchid benefits from
(and may require) a symbiotic relationship with compatible mycorrhizal
fungi. Otherwise, this orchid may fail to flourish. It can be
slowly propagated by separating its corms to establish new plants.
Propagation by seed is very difficult and rarely successful. A
moist to mesic loamy soil with abundant organic material is preferred.
Soil pH can vary from mildly acidic to neutral.
The native Putty-Root Orchid is occasional toward
the southern tip of
Illinois, while in the rest of the state it is uncommon or absent (see
In spite of its lack of abundance, this is one
of the more common orchids within the state. Habitats include rich
mesic woodlands, wooded areas (e.g., terraces) above streams, damp
depressions in upland rocky woodlands, the bottoms of sandstone
canyons, areas near the bases of wooded slopes, and the bottoms or
lower slopes of ravines. The Putty-Root Orchid is specifically adapted
to deciduous woodlands where such canopy trees as Sugar Maple (Acer
) and American Beech (Fagus grandifolia
are present. It is
found in above average to high quality natural areas. Such invasive
species as Garlic Mustard (Alliaria
) and Japanese Stiltgrass
present a significant threat to maintaining populations of this
orchid within the state should they continue to spread.
Various bees are
likely pollinators of this orchid. A Halictid bee, Lasioglossum
, has been observed visiting the flowers. Such
lured to this orchid's flowers by deception, as no nectar is present to
reward such floral visitors. There is a potential risk of White-tailed
Deer browsing on the flowering stalks and basal leaves, but more
information about this is currently unavailable.
A hilly woodland in
Illinois; the photographed orchid was located at the base of a wooded
slope on a terrace above a stream.
flowers of this
orchid are reasonably attractive, although their muted colors can make
them difficult to spot in a woodland. The basal leaf is also
attractive, which persists during the winter while disappearing
during the summer! This odd characteristic takes advantage of the
greater amount of light that is available when deciduous trees are
leafless. In the past, a mucilaginous substance was obtained from the
bulb-like corms that could be used to repair pottery and crockery,
hence the name 'Putty-Root.' Another common name of this orchid is
'Adam-and-Eve,' which refers to the pair of corms that are connected
together by a slender rhizome in the root system. The range of the
partially overlaps a similar species, the Cranefly Orchid (Tipularia
and it is possible to confuse these two species. The flowers
of Putty-Root Orchid lack nectar spurs, while the flowers of Cranefly
Orchid have nectar spurs that are long and slender. The racemes of the
latter orchid tend to have more flowers (12-30) and these flowers are
more white than those of the Putty-Root Orchid. There are also
differences in the appearance of their basal leaves. The basal leaf of
Putty-Root Orchid has white veins on a dark green background,
while the basal leaf of Cranefly Orchid lacks white veins. The
basal leaf of
this latter orchid is also shaped differently (a little shorter and
more wide) and its underside is usually a deeper shade of purple.