Corallorrhiza trifida is a green and white orchid that occurs in mossy forests and thickets from the lowlands to the subalpine zone across Denali. Yellow coral root is primarily dependent on fungi and other plants for its source of sugars because it does derives little from photosynthesis and lacks fully developed leaves. Instead, this plant intercepts sugars produced by other vascular plants through an intermediate fungal partner (mycorrhizae). The rhizome grows in a thick, twisted formation, the source of the genus name, which means 'coralroot'. Plants grow 8-35 cm tall. The stems are thick, pale yellow green, bearing a few brown, transparent sheaths but no leaves. The stems terminate in 3-18 flowered spikes. The flowers are small with green petals and sepals and a white lip. The lip is obovate, slightly lobed, 2.5-4 mm long and 1.5-3 mm wide. The sepals and other petals reach 4-5 mm in length. Like all orchids, yellow coralroot produces hundreds of tiny seeds. Its capsules are ellipsoid, 5-15 mm long. No other orchid in Denali completely lacks leaves.
Corallorrhiza trifida flowers very early in the spring, stems only present for a month or two. Plants may go several years in between blooming, while the rhizome lays dormant underground.
Flowers are bisexual and predominately self-fertilizing (Catling 1983). The pollinia (pollen packets) are positioned so that they fall directly onto the stigma shortly after flowers open (Claessens and Kleynen 1998), though some insect visits can occur. Seeds are minute, dust-like, and easily spread by wind. Seeds can remain dormant in the soil until the correct fungal partner is found (McKendrick et al. 2000). Their host mycorrhizae are members of the genus Tomentella, which are also mycorrhizal with various tree species.
Corallorrhiza trifida is a widespread circumpolar species. This species occurs across boreal North America from Alaska to the east coast, and as far south as the mountains of West Virginia in the east and New Mexico in the west. Yellow coralroot occurs across Alaska, excluding the Aleutians west of Unalaska, Kodiak Island and southern southeastern panhandle, and it is rare in alpine and arctic tundra areas. This species occurs occasionally across Denali, particularly along rivers in the northeast of the Park and valleys on the south side of the Alaska Range. The species is inconspicuous, and is more common than it appears from plant collections.
The average elevation of this species is 583 m, and the altitudinal range is 185 to 979 meters. Usually found growing on areas with little to no incline, the average slope from sites in Denali is 4.72 degrees.