Adam and Eve Orchid

Aplectrum hyemale

adam_and_eve_orchid_putty_root_flowers_12-31-13.jpg

Photo of Adam and Eve orchid flowers
The flowers of Adam and Eve orchid appear in May and June, after the leaves, which overwinter, wither away.
Jim Rathert
Other Common Name
Putty Root
Family

Orchidaceae (orchids)

Description

Adam and Eve orchid, or putty root, is an herbaceous perennial that grows from rounded corms that are often linked by a short rhizome. Flowers are 7–15 on a bare stem, light to dark brown, about ½ inch long, and sometimes slightly purple toward the bases of the 3 sepals and petals. The lip is 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.

Similar species: This is the only member of its genus. There are approximately 35 species of orchids in Missouri. The cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor) also has leaves that emerge in fall and overwinter, usually withering in spring (in this case, June) as the flowering stem develops. It is uncommon, restricted to the Mississippi Lowlands of the Bootheel region and nearby Ozarks. Missouri is at the northwest edge of its overall range.

Size

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

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Photo of Adam and Eve orchid leaf
Adam and Eve Orchid (Leaf)
You've probably seen Adam and Eve 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.
Habitat and conservation

Found in bottomlands of rich, wooded slopes, often along streams and in ravine bottoms, sometimes on gentle slopes. 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

Most common in 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" (rounded underground stems called corms) contain a glutinous substance used in former times as an adhesive to mend broken pottery. It's called "Adam and Eve orchid" because the corms are usually paired.

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. Halictid bees (sweat bees) are apparently the pollinators of this species.