Spotted Coralroot Orchid in the Western Transverse Ranges?

Find out how a CNPS Chapter field trip logged the first record of its occurrence 

By Ellen Dean (photos by Carolyn Warren)

In July, CNPS members from the Los Angeles/Santa Monica Mountains (LA/SMM), Channel Islands, and San Gabriel Mountains chapters gathered in the parking lot near the top of Mount Pinos. Located in the western Transverse Ranges, Mount Pinos spans Ventura and Kern counties. We were there to explore meadows and subalpine habitats on an LA/SMM field trip with botanist Pam De Vries.

The group split up, with most participants choosing to explore the meadows near the parking lot and campground. Six of us decided to start walking the trail to the summit as early as possible due to the heat. Not far up the cool, dark north-facing slope, under white fir (Abies concolor) and Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi) trees, San Gabriel Mountains Chapter member Teresa Spohr saw spotted coralroot orchid (Corallorhiza maculata) in bud.

two chapter members documenting the Mount Pinos population of spotted coralroot orchid
CNPS Channel Islands Chapter members Rick Burgess and Ellen Dean documenting the Mount Pinos population of spotted coralroot orchid.

Then, others in our group saw more colonies of the orchid further on, and so we wandered up the trail admiring the plants and flowers. A widespread species, spotted coralroot orchid is relatively common in the North Coast Ranges and Sierra Nevada of California, as well as in the mountains of many other U.S. states, Canada, and Mexico. The plant is not photosynthetic and obtains its nutrition via a relationship with a fungus in the soil. Strangely, this species was not listed on the three different Mount Pinos plant lists that I had with me, all of which were based on herbarium specimens and observations made on Mount Pinos over the past century. 

spotted coralroot orchid
Left: Spotted coralroot orchid at Mount Pinos (stems arising from underground rhizome). Right: Close-up of the inflorescence of spotted coralroot orchid.

The following week, members of the Channel Islands Chapter returned to the population to photograph it and press a specimen (with National Forest permission) for deposit at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden Herbarium. The location has also been posted as a Calflora observation and on iNaturalist by CNPS Field Botanist Jordan Collins.

Its a bit of a mystery why this plant had not previously been discovered in an area as well botanized as Mount Pinos. What is certain is that having a chapter field trip to Mount Pinos allowed us to have eyes on the ground and to find the spotted coralroot orchid. Thank you to everyone involved in making that happen! 

Learn more about coralroot orchids.

You never know what you’ll find on a CNPS chapter excursion! Use our chapter map to find and connect with your local chapter. 

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