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Putty Root (Aplectrum hyemale)

Life history

Species overview

Putty Root (Aplectrum hyemale), a Wisconsin Special Concern plant, is found in rich woods, north- and east-facing slopes, and in low, flat areas. Blooming occurs May through June; fruiting occurs June through September. The optimal identification period for this species is Autumn to early spring.

Synonyms: Aplectrum spicatum, Cymbidium hyemale


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Wrinkled oval-shaped basal leaf appearing in late summer, fall, and early spring, but absent or withering at flowering; inflorescence a loose cluster of purple to green 6-parted flowers with a fringed lower lip, borne on a leafless stalk.
  • Flower characteristics: Flowers 6-parted yellowish, greenish, or whitish, 1 to 2 cm long and borne in loose clusters (racemes) on a leafless stalk; lower lip with a fringed edge and marked with purple.
  • Fruit characteristics: Capsule tapering at both ends, ribbed, drooping, 15 to 30 mm.
  • Leaf characteristics: Leaves single, large, oval-shaped and wrinkled, developing in summer, remaining over winter, and withering before flowering.


  • Blooming phenology: May through June
  • Fruiting phenology: June through September
  • Optimum time to identify: The optimal identification period for this species is Autumn to early spring


  • Growth form: Forb-erect
  • Vegetative reproduction: Slender rhizomes connect corms
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Comments: Associated Species: Acer saccharum, A. rubrum, Quercus alba, Q. rubra, Carya ovata, Populus tremuloides, P. grandidentata, Carpinus caroliniana, Hepatica acutiloba, Sanguinaria canadensis, Lycopodium spp., Brachyelytrum erectum, Adiantum pedatum, Smilax hispida, Orchis spectabilis, Carya cordiformis, Hepatica americana, Podophyllum peltatum, Tilia americana, Fagus grandidentata, Trillium spp., Ulmus rubra, Hydrophyllum spp.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Putty Root (Aplectrum hyemale). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where this species has been found to date and is not meant as a range map.

Documented locations of Aplectrum hyemale in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusSC
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS2S3
Global RankG5
Tracked by NHIY

Habitats and landscapes

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

General habitat information

  • Habitat description: Found in rich woods, north- and east-facing slopes, and in low, flat areas.
  • Soils: Wet soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Putty Root. Scores for natural community associations are: "significant" association (score=3), "moderate association" (score=2) or the species can be present but is only weakly associated with the community (score=1).

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Putty Root. The scores (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None) also correspond to the map.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Species guidance

The Endangered Resources Program has developed avoidance measures and management guidelines for plants on the Natural Heritage Working List. These are a work in progress, and we welcome your suggestions and feedback. Sources used in developing this information can be found here.

Avoidance measures

These are specific actions designed to avoid "take" (mortality) of this species.

  • The presence of this species' distinctive basal leaves during the fall and winter make surveillance and avoidance easy. These overwintering basal leaves photosynthesize in cool temperatures during late winter and early spring, coinciding with the snow melt (Adams 1970). Therefore, timber management should be conducted in winter when temperatures are below 40 degrees.
  • Avoid locating landings, staging areas, or access routes on or near known populations.
  • Avoid known individual plant locations and conduct operations elsewhere when they are least likely to cause damage. Ideally, this would involve frozen, snow-covered ground. However, in areas of the state where frozen conditions are unreliable, very dry soils late in the growing season might be the best available alternative. Consult with a biologist, if needed.
  • Avoid broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.

Management guidance

Management guidelines are additional considerations that may help maintain or enhance habitat for this species

  • Although maintaining high overall forest canopy is important, silvicultural techniques which open small gaps in the canopy may be beneficial to this species.
  • Maintain thick duff layer if possible; minimize spread of invasive species including earthworms.


Putty Root Photo.

Photo by  staff, Wisconsin DNR.

Putty Root Photo.

Photo by  staff, Wisconsin DNR.

Putty Root Photo.

Photo © Abbie Church.

Putty Root Photo.

Photo by Kevin Doyle, Wisconsin DNR.

Putty Root Photo.

Putty root in mesic sugar maple, red oak forest.

Photo by Andy Clark, Wisconsin DNR.

Support for Wisconsin's rare plant information has been provided by the Division of Forestry, the Endangered Resources Fund and the Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation Fund. To donate, visit the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin [exit DNR].

Last revised: Wednesday, May 05, 2021
Southwest Savanna Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Western Coulees and Ridges Southeast Glacial Plains Central Sand Hills Central Lake Michigan Coastal Central Sand Plains Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northeast Sands Western Prairie North Central Forest Northern Highlands Northwest Lowlands Northwest Sands Northwest Lowlands Superior Coastal Plains Forest Transition