Adam and Eve Orchid (Putty Root)

Aplectrum hyemale
Family

Orchidaceae (orchids)

Description

Flowers 7–15 on a bare stem, light to dark brown, about ½ inch long, sometimes slightly purple toward the base of the 3 sepals and petals. Lip small, white, 3-lobed with magenta markings. Blooms mid-May to early June. Leaves 1 or 2 per plant, appearing in September, overwintering and withering away by flowering time. Leaves are elliptical, with many white veins on a dark green background; often plaited underneath.

Size

Height: flowering stem to 12 inches; leaves to 8 inches long.

Habitat and conservation

Found in bottomlands of rich, wooded slopes, often along streams and in ravine bottoms. There's a good chance you've noticed this orchid on your winter hikes and wondered about its strange appearance: a green-and-white-striped, pleated leaf lying flat upon the dead leaves on the forest floor. Check back in May to see its flowers!

image of Adam and Eve Orchid or Putty Root Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

East-central and southern Missouri in the Ozark Border and Ozark regions; scattered elsewhere.

Human connections

This plant is called "putty root" because the "roots" (underground stems called corms) contain a glutinous substance used in former times as an adhesive to mend broken pottery.

Ecosystem connections

This plant reverses the normal seasonal cycle of chlorophyll production by having leaves only in the fall and winter. With the forest trees bare overhead, more light reaches the ground, and this plant takes advantage of the situation.