Classification Hierarchy
Kingdom Plantae
Subkingdom Tracheophyta
Superdivision Spermatophyta
Division Magnoliophyta
Class Liliopsida
Subclass Liliidae
Order Orchidales
Family Orchidaceae
Genus Aplectrum
Species Aplectrum hyemale
Puttyroot orchid

Date: May 18, 2010. Location: Amana Woods (map)

USDA Plant Profile

Scientific Name: Aplectrum hyemale (Aplectrum [Gr] without a spur. plectron = spur). hyemale may be a reference to winter; [L] hiemalis = wintery. The flower lacks a spur and the leaf remains green in winter.

Common Name: Putty root or Adam-and-Eve plant (a fanciful allusion to the bridge of tissue connecting two corms - like Eve developing from Adam's rib).

Origin: Native

Habitat: In shaded areas of mesic woods with rich soils.

Notes: Listed as infrequent to rare in Iowa (Eilers and Roosa P.166), the plants are often in small colonies of connected corm-like tubers. The name Putty root comes from the sticky mucilaginous substance in the tubers. Some corms will produce a single leaf in late summer which lasts through the winter and withers in spring about the time that a single erect scape of flowers is produced. All orchids have a plant/fungus relationship called myco-heterotrophy at some stage in their development. The root fungi that form orchid mycorrhiza are typically basidiomycetes. Orchid seeds lack energy reserves and are critically dependent on mycorrhizae for germination.

Additional references: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17.

Field Marks for Identification:

Flowers: April/May a single scape about 18 inches high bears an inflorescence of a dozen or so small flowers each about 1 cm long. The flowers lack spurs and in our area maturing fruits (capsules) and seeds are apparent in July.

Leaves: Elliptic leaves usually 4 to 8 inches long, blue-green with longitudinal white "pinstrips", appear corrugated/pleated. Only one leaf is produced from each corm. The leaves appear in late summer or fall and stand out against the light snows of winter and the brown leaf litter of early spring. After flowering the leaves turn yellow and wither.

Glossary: Botanical Terms pdf

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Cora Steyermark provides a very nice description of the Puttyroot orchid. This is from her companion volume (Behind the Scenes) to the three volume set Steyermark's Flora of Missouri written by her husband Julian A. Steyermark:

The habits and bulb-like roots of this orchid furnish more interest than the rather dingy, small flowers of yellowish-brown and purple color. In the fall one broad, dark blue-green leaf comes up directly from the center of a corm similar to that of a crocus. The two corms underground, Adam-and-Eve, are attached by a thin root. In the spring about the time the leaf dies down, a flower stalk arises from the side of the corm. In the meantime a third corm is forming, attached by a thin root to number two in a straight line. During the summer when the flower and leaf both disappear, the corm producing them dies also, leaving corm number two to produce the new leaf in the fall. Corm number three tags along, and next year produces number four, still in line.