Plant Common Name
Adam and Eve, Putty Root
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.
AHS Heat Zone
7 - 1
Partial Sun, Partial Shade
6"-24" / 15.2cm - 61.0cm
4"-6" / 10.2cm - 15.2cm
United States, Northeastern United States, Mid-Atlantic United States, Southeastern United States, North-Central United States, Central United States, South-Central United States, Canada
Spring, Fall, Winter
Sharp or Has Thorns