Practical ecological knowledge for the temperate reader.

Corallorhiza Sp. - Coralroot

Corallorhiza maculata

Corallorhiza maculata

Corallorhiza maculata

Key to Corallorhiza Sp.

N.B.: couplets are linked, e.g., 1. is linked to 1'.

Local Species;

  1. Corallorhiza maculata - spotted coralroot [E-flora][TSFTK]
  2. Corallorhiza mertensiana - western coralroot [E-flora][PCBC][TSFTK]
  3. Corallorhiza striata var. striata - striped coralroot [E-flora][PCBC][TSFTK]

Other non-local Sp. in B.C.

  1. Corallorhiza trifida - yellow coralroot [E-flora][TSFTK]

Corallorhiza maculata - Spotted coralroot



Habitat/Range: "Moist to dry forests in the lowland, steppe and montane zones; frequent throughout BC, especially along the coast, south of 55 degrees N, rare northward; E to NF and S to ME, MA, PA, SC, TN, IA, TX, NM, AZ and CA; Guatemala." [IFBC-E-flora]

Ecological Indicator Information: "Shade-tolerant, submontane to subalpine, saprophyte. Transcontinental North American. Species occurs on moderately dry to fresh, nitrogen-poor soils within boreal, temperate, and cool mesothermal climates. Sporadic in the mossy understory of coniferous forests on water-shedding and water-receiving sites; commonly associated with Gaultheria shallon, Hylocomium splendens, and Rhytidiadelphus loreus. Oxylophytic species characteristic of Mor humus forms." [IPBC-E-flora]

Medicinal Use


"...Corallorhiza maculata and C. mertensiana associate only with fungi in the Russulaceae (Taylor and Bruns 1997, 1999b)." [Heijden ME]

"Similarly, Taylor and Bruns (1999) investigated the mycorrhizal associations of the mycoheterotrophic orchids Corallorhiza maculata and C. mertensiana over a wide geographic range and found that they never shared fungal species, even when growing intermixed. In these cases, co-occurrence of mycoheterotrophs cannot be explained by specialization on the same “host” fungus." [Merckx Myco]

Corallorhiza mertensiana - Western coralroot

Habitat / Range: "Moist to dry forests in the lowland, steppe and montane zones; frequent throughout BC, especially along the coast, south of 55 degrees N, rare northward; N to SE AK and S to WY, ID and CA." [IPBC-E-flora]

Ecological Indicator Information: "Shade-tolerant, submontane to subalpine, saprophyte. Western North American. Both species occur on moderately dry to fresh, nitrogen-poor soils within boreal, temperate, and cool mesothermal climates. Sporadic in the mossy understory of coniferous forests on water-shedding and water-receiving sites; commonly associated with Gaultheria shallon, Hylocomium splendens, and Rhytidiadelphus loreus. Oxylophytic species characteristic of Mor humus forms." [IPBC-E-flora]

Corallorhiza striata - Striped coralroot

Subtaxa Present in B.C.


Habitat/Range: "Moist forests in the lowland, steppe and montane zones; frequent throughout BC, south of 55 degrees LaughingHawk5A67; E to PQ and S to NY, MI, WI, MN, ND, CO, UT and CA." [IFBC-E-flora]

Corallorhiza trifida - Yellow coralroot


Habitat/Range: "Moist to mesic coniferous and mixed forests in the steppe and montane zones; frequent throughout BC east of the Coast-Cascade Mountains; circumpolar, N to AK, YT and NT, E to NF and S to ME, MA, PA, WV, OH, IL, MN, SD, NM, UT, NV and CA; Greenland, Iceland, and Eurasia." [IFBC-E-flora]

Status: Native [IFBC-E-flora]

"The partial mycoheterotroph Corallorhiza trifida (Orchidaceae) also has a circumboreal distribution, while all other Corallorhiza species are restricted to the New World. Corallorhiza trifida is not the earliest diverging species in the genus (Freudenstein and Senyo 2008; Barrett and Freudenstein 2008) and possibly dispersed through Beringia, similar to the dispersal hypothesized for both Monotropa and Hypopitys..." [Merckx Myco]

Zelmer and Currah (1995) demonstrated that the fungus isolated from roots of Corallorhiza trifida, although not identified, formed pelotons in Corallorhiza trifida root cells and typical ectomycorrhizas with lodgepole pine. It was recently demonstrated by Zimmer et al. (2008) that the fungal symbiont associated with C. trifida is a Tomentella sp. (Thelephoraceae). [Merckx Myco]

Corallorhiza Species

"Currently, the genus contains 15 species that grow in northern temperate regions around the world. One species is native to Europe (Mabberley 1997). These orchids have no chlorophyll (Mabberley 1997). Instead, they rely on their relationship with the fungi on their roots for survival (mycotrophs). The plants are typically a reddish color, sometimes marked with darker blotches." [Daniel F. Austin]

"Corallorhiza, commonly known as “coralroot orchids,” includes 12 species (Freudenstein 1997; Barrett and Freudenstein 2011) . All species are achlorophyllous except for C. trifida, which has green stems and capsules. However, recent research has shown that C. trifida derives most of its carbon from ectomycorrhizal Telophoraceae fungi (McKendrick et al. 2000; Cameron et al. 2009) . Corallorhiza trifida is extremely widespread in the temperate and subarctic Northern hemisphere. The distribution of the remaining species of Corallorhiza is limited to North and Central America. Corallorhiza striata and C. bentleyi are apparently associated with nonoverlapping clades of ectomycorrhizal Tomentella fungi (Thelephoraceae; Basidiomycota) (Barrett et al. 2010) , while C. maculata and the closely related species C. mertensiana have been found to associate with nonoverlapping Russulaceae fungi (Basidiomycota) (Taylor and Bruns 1997, 1999; Taylor et al. 2004) . Corallorhiza odontorhiza and C. wisteriana are sister species that occur in Mexico and northward; C. wisteriana is distributed across the USA, while C. odontorhiza occurs only in the east of the USA. Corallorhiza odontorhiza utilizes Thelephoraceae; populations of C. wisteriana in the western portion of the distribution utilize Thelephoraceae, while eastern populations utilize Russulaceae. Some polymorphic populations exist in which plants use either fungus (Freudenstein and Barrett, unpubl.)." [Merckx Myco]

"CORALLORHIZA (Coral Root, Crawley) ROOT. Tincture [Fresh Root, 1:2, Dry Root, 1:5, 60% alcohol] 30-90 drops in hot water. Cold Infusion 3-6 ounces, reheated. STATUS : W/LA" [Moore (1995)]

"Recent findings demonstrate that ectomycorrhizal fungi (ECM) may also participate in OM which means that living trees provide photosynthates in a triple symbiosis. This type of relationship has been suspected to exist in species of Corallorhiza since Campbell (1970) observed rhizomorphs adjacent to the rhizomes of C. striata Lind!. Recently, the relationship has been studied in considerable detail. Zelmer and Currah (1995a) isolated a clamp-bearing basio- diomycete from C. trifida Chatelain and verified that it could form ECM with seedlings of Pinus contorta in vitro. In populations of C. maculata (Rafin.) Rafin., Taylor and Bruns (1997) found endophytes which, by DNA-analyses, were identified to Russulaceae, again strongly suggesting an ECM relationship as the carbohydrate source. Most recently, McKendrick et al. (2000a) obtained isolates from field sown seedlings of C. trifida and by DNA sequencing identified them to the Thelephora-Tomentella complex of Thelephoraceae. In microcosms, they subsequently linked the OM to roots of Betula pendula and Salix repens in an ECM relationship, and by isotope tracing demonstrated the transfer of carbon from the tree through the fungal partner to the orchid (McKendrick et al., 2000b). This would seem to settle the case, as far as Corallorhiza is concerned. Since a small and shortlived inflorescense with little chlorophyll is the only aboveground structure produced in species of Corallorhiza, the contribution from the tree probably is crucial to the survival of the orchid. The drain on the trees, on the other hand, of supporting the orchids was estimated to be very modest (McKendrick et al., 2000b)." [Smith DIM]

"One suggestive example is Corallorhiza mertensiana Bong., a rather rare species (Freudenstein, 1997) which was found to associate with a narrower range of mycobionts than the wide-spread relative C. maculata (Taylor and Bruns, 1999)." [Smith DIM]

Corallorhiza odontorhiza

An Eastern North American species; The root is diaphoretic, febrifuge and sedative[4, 61]. It is one of the most certain, quick and powerful diaphoretics, but it is a scarce plant and therefore a very expensive medicine to obtain[4]. Known as Crawley Root. [Peterson- Med]

There are several species of coral root, and it is believed that all have similar properties. The fresh root has a peculiar, strong smell and white color. When the root is dried, its odor dissipates, and its wrinkled, dark brown pieces compare to cloves in appearance.If you gather your own, it is recommended that it be pulverized, well-dried, and stored in an airtight container away from light.[Elliott, 1990]


Corallorhiza odontorhiza; "This agent stood very high in the estimation of the fathers of the botanical school as a powerful diuretic and safe eliminative agent. It was considered the most active of all sweat producing remedies and so kindly was its action and so devoid of prostrating influences that it has later been considered superior to jaborandi. It was used in the early stages of prostrating fevers, and inflammatory troubles whatever the character. It was used in night sweats and hectic fever without debility. It acts well in the early stage of acute pneumonia and pleurisy, and given at the onset of a cold it is most prompt in its action in eliminating all the symptoms. In the first stage of consumption where there is hacking cough, loss of weight, deficient appetite, while it acts slowly it overcomes the marked prostration and improves all the functional operations of the glandular organs. Dr. Baker depended upon this remedy for the treatment of meningeal inflammation, nervousness, restlessness, and general feverish symptoms, as the agent is an active sedative as well as a powerful diaphoretic. It relieves bronchial irritation with wheezing and tightness in the chest. Now at the present time when the importance of elimination is well understood and when its valuable effects are so plainly apparent, when properly conducted, this remedy should be freely used in order to determine by scientific means the amount of elimination secured and the actual substances removed, and the influence of such removal. The depressing effect of jaborandi or pilocarpine prevents to an extent such observations which can be safely made with this agent." [Ellingwood]

CORAL ROOT (Corallorhiza odontorrhiza) + Activities (Coral Root) — Antipyretic (f; PH2); Diaphoretic (f; PH2); Sedative (f; PH2). Indications (Coral Root) — Cold (f; PH2); Fever (f; PH2); Insomnia (f; PH2); Nervousness (f; PH2). Contraindications, Interactions, and Side Effects (Coral Root) — Not covered (AHP). “Hazards and/or side effects not known for proper therapeutic dosages” (PH2). [HMH Duke]

Corallorhiza. Corallorhiza odontorhiza(Willd.) Nutt. Coral-root. (Fam. Orchidaceae.)—This is a parasitic leafless herb, sending up from a coral-like rhizome a simple scape or flower stem, from six to sixteen inches high, furnished with sheaths instead of leaves, of a light brown or purplish color, and bearing small, greenish-brown flowers in a long spike. The plant grows throughout the United States east of the Mississippi. The rhizome is the part used. It is much branched and toothed, and of a brown color, and its resemblance to coral gave name to the plant. It has a strong peculiar odor, and an astringent bitterish taste. It is much valued by the eclectics as diaphoretic in fevers; dose, of powder, thirty grains (2 Gm.) every two hours. [Remington USD20]

"No records have been found of indigenous people using C. odontorhiza, but farther north and west C. maculata was used by the Iroquois, Navajo, Paiute, and Shoshone (Correll 1950, Moerman 1998). Correll (1950) speculated that it was used to make a tea to build up blood because of its red coloration. Other indigenous uses of C. maculata are as a diaphoretic, febrifuge, and sedative. Those are the same as for non-indigenous application of C. corallorhiza, and it seems likely that both species were used similarly. Ellingwood and Lloyd (1898) and Felter (1922), prominent Eclectic physicians in their time, used the Florida species as a diaphoretic, for fever, and as a sedative. Ellingwood and Lloyd (1898) considered it a diaphoretic par excellence." [Daniel F. Austin]

"CRAWLEY. Dragon's Claw. Coral Teeth. Fever Root. Chicken Toes. Albany Beechdrops. Corallorhiza Odontorhiza. Internally, used for.--Sweating purposes in fevers and inflammatory diseases, acute erysipelas, pleurisy, low stages of fevers, amenorrhea and dysmenorrhea, in afterpains, and suppressed lochia. Part used.--The root. Gather.--In the fall. Flowers (When).--In July. No leaves. Grows (where).--Found on barren hills and shady uplands in northern states and Canada. Prepared (how) .--Powder and keep it in well closed bottles. Diseases, Dose, etc.--Dose of powder, from ten to twenty grains in hot water and repeated every hour or two as needed. Combined with blue cohosh, it is very beneficial in amenorrhea, etc., as above stated. In fevers, Culver's root can be added to it, if the bowels need regulating. It is also good for flatulent colic in twenty-grain doses. Some combine pleurisy root with it in pleurisy. It should be given in acute diseases every one to two hours as needed." [Ritter MRTTOS]

Root (Corallorhiza odontorhiza)

"History. — This plant is indigenous to the United States, growing in rich woods, about the roots of trees, from Maine to Carolina and westward to the east bank of the Mississippi River, flowering from July to October. Not very common south of 35° or 36° latitude. The species C. multiflora, C. Wisteriana, C. innata, and C. Macraei probably possess similar medicinal virtues. The rhizome of the first-mentioned species (C. multiflora, Nuttall), which grows as far west as the Rockies, is undoubtedly often present in the commercial drug, and is probably as valuable. It differs from the above species somewhat, especially in having in its spike from 15 to 25 or 30 flowers, which have a deeply 8-cleft lip, and are spurred, and are succeeded by a pendulous, elliptical capsule, instead of a roundish one. The plant is also much stouter. It was first discovered in 1816, by Dr. D. S. C. H. Smith, although long known previous to that time to herbalists. The entire plant is destitute of verdure. The root is the medicinal part; it is small, dark-brown, resembling cloves or a hen's claw, has a strong, nitrous smell, and a mucilaginous, slightly bitter, astringent taste. It has not been analyzed.[1]"[HenHerb]

"Description. — The dried root, as met in commerce, is composed of small, coral-like pieces, about 2 lines in diameter, and from 3 to 12 lines long, the longest pieces consisting of the small, coral-like branches, round or compressed, crooked, wrinkled lengthwise, more or less distinctly annulated at distances varying from 1 to 2 lines, dark-brown externally, and lighter within. Its fracture is short, presenting under the microscope a shining, pulverulent, or granular appearance, somewhat like the saccharine frost on figs and raisins. The root is inodorous, with a taste sweetish at first, somewhat resembling that of raisin-seed, and succeeded by a faintly bitterish, mucilaginous flavor.[1]"[HenHerb]

"Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage. — Crawley is probably the most powerful, prompt, and certain true diaphoretic in the materia medica, but its scarcity and high price prevent it from coming into general use. It is also sedative, and promotes perspiration, without producing any excitement in the system. Its chief value is as a diaphoretic, in fevers, especially typhus, and in inflammatory diseases; it has proved efficient in acute erysipelas, cramps, flatulency, pleurisy, and nightsweats; and relieves hectic fever without debilitating the patient. Probably it will be found to combine tonic, sedative, diaphoretic, and febrifuge properties. When, in acute pulmonic troubles, a non-stimulating diaphoretic is needed, we can employ none better than the coral-root. To "break up a cold" it is one of the most certain of medicines. It is fully equal to asclepias, and lacks the dangerous features of jaborandi. It has done excellent service in diphtheria. Acute and chronic pleurisy are both conditions in which it will prove curative. Years ago it was used for the control of colliquative sweating of phthisis, and will be found equal to muscarine and salvia for this purpose. It is one of the best remedies ever employed for the general debility preceding pulmonic affections. We have employed tincture of coral-root in cases where all the symptoms were those of incipient consumption, with the most beneficial results. There is hacking cough, loss of weight, want of appetite, pleuritic pains, and marked general prostration. The remedy will be found slow, but certain in its action. From 3 to 5 weeks will be required before any good results can be observed. The appetite is the first to respond, the cough and pain cease, there is increased urinary product, and the functions of the skin are better performed. The patient increases in strength and flesh, and all the unfavorable symptoms disappear. It has been employed in dry bronchial irritation with "tightness across the chest, wheezing, and severe paroxysms of irritable cough," and in one case where enlarged thyroid caused mechanical bronchial irritation, the physician was successful in removing the condition by the reduction of the size of the goitre with this agent. It should be employed either in infusion or tincture, and the doses should be moderately large and long-continued. The infusion is prepared by taking 1/2 ounce of the root to 1 gallon of water, and the patient is to drink freely of it. Or a saturated alcoholic tincture, or a saturated rye-whiskey tincture, may be given in 1/2-drachm doses 3 or 4 times daily. Its virtues are especially marked in the low stage of fevers. The dose is from 20 to 30 grains of the powdered root, given in water as warm as the patient can drink, and repeated every 1 or 2 hours, according to circumstances. The powder should always be kept in well-closed vials; it formerly constituted the "fever-powders" of some practitioners. Combined with extract of blue cohosh it forms an excellent agent in amenorrhoea and dysmenorrhoea; and is unsurpassed in after-pains, suppression of lochia, and the febrile symptoms which sometimes occur at the parturient period. In fevers it may be advantageously combined with specific leptandra, or resin of podophyllum, where it is found necessary to act upon the bowels or liver; and mixed with specific dioscorea, it will be found almost a specific in flatulent and bilious colic.[1]"[HenHerb]

"Specific Indications and Uses. — General prostration, malaise, hacking cough, loss of appetite, loss of weight, pleuritic pains, bronchial irritation, pyrexia.[1]"[HenHerb]

"Related Species. — As there was formerly some doubt as to the true plant which furnishes the crawley root, and, as Prof. King, in his first edition of the American Dispensatory (which he corrected, however, in a subsequent edition), described it as the Pterospora Andromedea.[1]"[HenHerb]

CORAL ROOT (Coralorrhiza maculata and related species)


"The flowering stalks often persist as dead brown fragile sticks for two seasons after the flowers have matured into drooping oval pods. These persistent stalks make it easy for the harvester to locate dormant plants in any season." [RyanDrum]

"I try to harvest coral root plants only where there are several plants to leave. I believe new plants can arise from the disruption of rhizome clumps. I harvest the clumps with a strong spading fork, lifting rhizome masses up to a cubic foot of mass with a lot of dirt and usually small tree roots mixed in with the regularly arrayed rhizome grids. This has led me to speculate that the Coral Root orchids may actually be epiparasites, similar to Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora), parasitizing fungi parasitic on live trees’ roots. Usually I have been watching particular clumps for decades prior to harvesting. I have been able with effort to dig up only half a clump, carefully leaving the remainder well-buried, which usually results not only in survival, but an apparent increase in growth for several years thereafter. Other times, large clumps broke apart and lots of little bits of coral-like rhizome bits were left and buried in the extraction pit. In subsequent years, new little plants appeared at the margins of the pit, indicating probable growth from rhizome remnants rather than just growth from the main clump portion left in the pit." [RyanDrum]

Longevity of Coral Root:

"In some of the 20# harvested rhizome clumps, up to 50% of the clump center is dead and decayed similar to what may be observed in the centers of very old Comfrey crowns. I have observed no obvious diseases on either rhizomes or stalks. Slugs occasionally eat the flower stalks but do not seem to especially favour it. There is no record of natives or colonists eating either young stalks or the plump and succulent pre-emergence stalk buds in spite of their thumb-sized tempting appearance. As noted in Wren (1988), there is a peculiar odor associated with freshly dug rhizomes, which is a trifle repugnant." [RyanDrum]

Preparation of Coral Root:

"After harvesting, the rhizomes are placed on a ¼ or ½ inch mesh hardware cloth screen and very carefully washed with a fine high-pressure water stream to remove dirt and debris. Sometimes root bits must be picked out individually, a laborious task, and coral-like rhizome grids often break off the main clump during the cleaning. When first dug and washed, the rhizomes are white with rusty tints at junctions. After washing, the rhizomes are quickly chopped, or crushed and placed in 50% ethanol, 1 part rhizomes to two parts alcohol. I leave the rhizomes in the solvent until the extract has been completely used. I have not tried either vinegar or oil Coral Root extractions. I did dry the rhizomes once but the brown, pungent product was not appealing. The strong therapeutic effects noted historically may have in part resulted from constituent changes caused by drying the rhizomes prior to use." [RyanDrum]

Therapeutic Uses of Coral Root:

"When observing and discussing Coral Root with local First Nations Elders, they emphasized its use as a sedative for over-tired children. None had actually eaten the plant. We thought it smelled a bit like Cacao when first dug and washed; we tasted it and agreed that it was strange and fishy, not good." [RyanDrum]

"I have used it most often for its sedative effects, especially with children. Results have been very successful, repeatedly, in different children with no apparent buildup of tolerance that would require larger doses. This has been as a tincture. A few drops under the tongue just prior to going to bed . The only negative has been some resistance to the taste/odor. To alleviate this negative aspect I plan to try making a syrup by placing equal amounts of rhizomes and wild honey together for a few weeks. If fermentation occurs, I will use two parts of honey to one part of Coral Roots in a second try. Using sugar to overcome resistance." [RyanDrum]

"Michael Moore (1979) in his excellent review of Coralorrhiza, notes that a teaspoon of the rhizomes (fresh or dried, not indicated) boiled for 10 minutes in water have a very strong diaphoretic, fever-reducing effect; and, a strong sedative effect especially in disturbed, nervous or angry states. I have not tried a strong decoction with patients, since the use of the tincture has been convenient." [RyanDrum]

"In one case, a 31-yr old woman with a history of extremely painful premenstrual symptoms and menstrual pain did not respond to traditional herbs for PMS and cramping. She also was unable to sleep well during the symptom bouts. A dropperful of Coral Root tincture made from fresh rhizomes, self-administered sublingually as needed resolved all symptoms. For several succeeding years she used the tincture as needed, as symptom severity and frequency lessened, and continues to do so." [RyanDrum]

Eclectic Uses of Coral Root:

"Felter (1922) claims that hot infusion of Coral Root promotes menstruation. In the Eclectic Materia Medica, he waxes enthusiastic about the great value of Coral Root for fevers, respiratory diseases, and the accompanying body deterioration. I quote him:"

"This is the most perfect diaphoretic we know of, duplicating the natural processes of perspiration when given in small doses and increasing the watery contents when administered in hot infusion…. It is pleasant to the taste and acts kindly upon the stomach….It was once used largely in fevers. Its principal use is in subacute inflammatory disorders of the respiratory tract, being especially valuable in the declining stages of bronchopneumonia, of a low but inactive type, with much depression, prostration after cough or effort, copious heavy expectoration, and general debility. For Convalescence from such states and after bronchitis, la grippe (Serious Influenza), and pneumonia, it is an ideal remedy. In those of a phthistical build (asthmatic)….much hacking cough, loss of weight, lack of appetite, pleuritic pains, and general prostration-yet not actually consumptive, it is one of the best tonics we have ever employed….For dry bronchial irritation, with wheezing, tightness of the chest, paroxysms of irritable cough, together with dry or inactive skin, Coral Root is extremely effective. In respiratory debility Coralorrhiza acts slowly but surely." [RyanDrum]


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