Coleman's coralroot is a beautiful orchid found at only three sites in the Sky Islands of Arizona, with one population in the Dragoon Mountains and two in the Santa Ritas. In the Santa Rita Mountains, one population grows in the footprint of the proposed Rosemont copper mine, a massive open-pit mine that could obliterate the entire population. In the Baboquivaris, the orchid has already been extirpated, likely due to overgrazing by cattle. The orchid's surviving populations are all threatened by livestock grazing, recreational impacts and global climate change. Just discovered to be a separate species in 2010, the Coleman's coralroot is already in danger of extinction.

To save the orchid from that fate, in September 2010 the Center petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect it under the federal Endangered Species Act. When the agency failed to move forward in the protection process, the Center filed a notice of intent to sue.

One of the most unique plants on Earth, Coleman's coralroot has neither leaves nor roots and doesn't make its own food through photosynthesis. Instead, it gets nourishment from a symbiotic relationship with host fungi that colonize the roots of trees and shrubs. Because the orchid is completely dependent on its host relationship, it's threatened by any factor that disturbs the soil or threatens the fungi it needs to survive. The orchid spends most of its life underground, putting up flowering shoots only when environmental conditions are right. In any given year, there are far fewer than 200 of the flowers above the ground in all the populations combined. If the flowers are trampled by recreationists or consumed by cattle, the orchid is unable to reproduce. During drought conditions, the orchids may not surface at all, making this species very vulnerable to drier conditions from global climate change.
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2010 federal Endangered Species Act petition




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The Endangered Species Act

Watch as the Center visits this beautiful plant in its native habitat.

Contact: Tierra Curry

Coleman's coralroot photo by Russ McSpadden/Center for Biological Diversity