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APLECTRUM hyemale

Image of Aplectrum hyemale

Russell Stafford

Family

Orchidaceae

Botanical Name

APLECTRUM hyemale

Plant Common Name

Adam and Eve, Putty Root

General Description

This ephemeral terrestrial (ground-dwelling) orchid is native to the moist woodlands of southeastern North America, Quebec south to Georgia and west to Minnesota and Oklahoma. It's curious common name "putty root" refers to its bulb-like corms that secrete a slime historically used to patch broken pottery. Interestingly, each plant grows from two corms that are attached by a stem-like rhizome. The pair of underground corms is the basis for its other common name, "Adam and Eve."

A spring and summer bloomer with foliage appearing from summer through winter, putty root's corms persist for two years, with a new corm produced annually to maintain the pair. A lone green to blue-green leaf grows from the older corm in the pair. A new leaf arises in late summer and lasts through late winter. The leaf even persists buried under snow. The pleated oval leaf has whitish veins and shrivels away in early spring. By mid to late spring, a pale, naked flower stalk emerges from the soil, reaching shin to knee high. Small flowers line the stalk. Each blossom has a central white lip with three petals arching around it. The petals are pale green-yellow, creamy white or ivory-tan with a violet-burgundy to brown blush. Dark golden brown seed capsules form after insect pollination.

Putty root is rarely garden-grown, so its cultural needs are not well understood. Sometimes corms will not bloom in years when climate or soil conditions aren't perfect. Putty root leaves can add some winter interest in a garden setting but are easily missed in the wild as they readily blend into the landscape. And its subtly pretty flowers also blend into the dappled shadows of the forest. Across its native range, putty root can be common to scarce. This orchid species sometimes associates with sugar maples and beech trees.

Grow putty root in a fertile, neutral-pH, loamy soil that's rich in organic matter. It tends to prosper in humus pockets that are moisture retentive, with adequate drainage to prevent actual standing water. It needs bright indirect light to partial sun from fall to early spring.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    7 - 1

  • Plant Type

    Perennial

  • Sun Exposure

    Partial Sun, Partial Shade

  • Height

    6"-24" / 15.2cm - 61.0cm

  • Width

    4"-6" / 10.2cm - 15.2cm

  • Native To

    United States, Northeastern United States, Mid-Atlantic United States, Southeastern United States, North-Central United States, Central United States, South-Central United States, Canada

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Neutral

  • Soil Drainage

    Average

  • Soil type

    Loam

  • Growth Rate

    Slow

  • Water Requirements

    Average Water

  • Habit

    Rosette/Stemless

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Fall, Winter

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Showy

  • Foliage Color (Fall) Modifier

    Striped/Striated

  • Foliage Color (Winter) Modifier

    Striped/Striated

  • Fragrant Flowers

    Yes

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Flower Petal Number

    Single

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    Yes

  • Edible Fruit

    No

  • Showy Foliage

    No

  • Evergreen

    No

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Usage

    Wildflower

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    No

  • Self-Sowing

    Yes