- • The leafless, circumboreal orchid Corallorhiza trifida is often assumed to be fully myco-heterotrophic despite contrary evidence concerning its ability to photosynthesize. Here, its level of myco-heterotrophy is assessed by analysing the natural abundance of the stable nitrogen and carbon isotopes 15N and 13C, respectively.
- • The mycorrhizal associates and chlorophyll contents of C. trifida were investigated and the C and N isotope signatures of nine C. trifida individuals from Central Europe were compared with those of neighbouring obligate autotrophic and myco-heterotrophic reference plants.
- • The results show that C. trifida only gains c. 52 ± 5% of its total nitrogen and 77 ± 10% of the carbon derived from fungi even though it has been shown to specialize on one specific complex of ectomycorrhizal fungi similar to fully myco-heterotrophic orchids. Concurrently, compared with other Corallorhiza species, C. trifida contains a remarkable amount of chlorophyll.
- • Since C. trifida is able to supply significant proportions of its nitrogen and carbon demands through the same processes as autotrophic plants, this species should be referred to as partially myco-heterotrophic.