The Coralroot Orchid is found throughout Europe, Asia and North America but it is not as showy and colourful as most other orchids, standing at only 5-14cm tall with tiny flowers measuring around 5mm in length. Despite being found across such are large area they are extremely hard to spot due to their diminutive size with most people walking right past them. In the UK most plants are found in Scotland with a few sites in Northern England and most of the populations are thought to be small.
Despite its name Coralroot Orchid doesn’t actually have roots per say, but a branched underground rhizome that superficially resembles coral in appearance. The plant receives most of its nutrients from a fungus that has a symbiotic relationship with Creeping Willow, a shrub that is common across the site. Other species that are generally found in the same sort of areas and are associated with Coralroot Orchid include Variegated Horsetail, Glaucous Sedge, Early Marsh orchid, Marsh Helleborine and Round-leaved Wintergreen.
Back in the late 1980’s and early 90’s Coralroot Orchid was found relatively abundantly across the site in many of the dune slacks, with 1700 plants being recorded in 1989 and 3297 in 1990. Intensive surveys were carried out by staff and volunteers at this time. During recent years however it appears to have been in decline at Sandscale Haws and much of the UK with 2014’s count only being 177 plants and not a single one being recorded in 2013 after the extremely wet year of 2012.
2015 however has turned everything on its head with huge numbers being found across the site. So far we have found them in 4 slacks totalling 898 flowering spikes with 516 of these being found in just one dune slack! We have a few more slacks to check over the next week, so we are hopeful that we will be crossing the 1000 marker which would be amazing as we haven’t seen numbers like these since 1991. Fingers crossed!
We couldn’t have managed these counts without the help of our ever enthusiastic volunteers so a big thank you to them!
Please note: Coralroot Orchids are extremely difficult to find at Sandscale Haws. To avoid any accidental damage to populations we encourage anyone who is interested in seeing them to contact the Rangers for advice before visiting. At times it may be possible to arrange a site visit with a Ranger to view the plants.