Adam and Eve Orchid

Photo of Adam and Eve orchid flowers
Scientific Name
Aplectrum hyemale
Orchidaceae (orchids)

Adam and Eve orchid, or putty root, is an herbaceous perennial wildflower that grows from rounded corms that are often linked by a short rhizome. The 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 3 petals. The lip (lower petal) 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 pleated underneath.

Similar species: This is the only member of its genus. There are approximately 36 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.

Other Common Names
Putty Root

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

Where To Find
image of Adam and Eve Orchid or Putty Root Distribution Map

Most common in east-central and southern Missouri in the Ozark Border and Ozark regions; scattered elsewhere.

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!

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.

The genus name, Aplectrum, has at its root the Greek word plectrum ("pick," as for playing a stringed instrument, or "spur"); adding the negative prefix a-, the name means "without a pick"; it refers to the lack of floral spurs. The species name, hyemale, means "of winter," referring to the conspicuous overwintering leaf.

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.

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Similar Species
About Wildflowers, Grasses and Other Nonwoody Plants in Missouri
A very simple way of thinking about the green world is to divide the vascular plants into two groups: woody and nonwoody (or herbaceous). But this is an artificial division; many plant families include some species that are woody and some that are not. The diversity of nonwoody vascular plants is staggering! Think of all the ferns, grasses, sedges, lilies, peas, sunflowers, nightshades, milkweeds, mustards, mints, and mallows — weeds and wildflowers — and many more!