One evening last week, one of my board members, who has the good fortune (and the fortune) to live in a beautiful mature forest, called me excitedly after work to tell me about a plant that he had never seen growing in his woodlands before. He described it as looking like a weird pine cone standing on its base emerging from the forest duff.
I suspected that I knew what it was and, because it was a really nice evening, Kali and I decided to make the 30-minute walk to his house before dinner to check out the "alien" visitor. As soon as I saw it, I knew that the plant was not an alien but was, as I suspected, Squawroot (Conopholis americana), also known as Cancer-root.
Even though I knew the plant, I was glad that my board member called because (1) I don't see Squawroot very often, (2) I could show off my botanical prowess to a board member, and most importantly (3) I had never seen so many Squawroots in my life! Plants were emerging from the ground everywhere over a rectangular area approximately 10 meters on a side. I was really impressed.
Squawroot is a member of the Broom-rape family (Orobanchaceae) [isn't that a great name?], which in the eastern United States also includes Beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana) and two species of Broom-rape (Orobanche spp.). All members of the family lack chlorophyll and are parasitic on the roots of other plants--in the case of Squawroot, on oaks.
Also on the rocky hillside that supported the Squawroot I found this turkey feather lodged among rocks (and poison ivy).