Friday, May 4, 2012

Woodland Alien

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.

Kali made the comment on our walk back home that she couldn't believe that botanists hadn't changed the politically incorrect common name of the plant.  Cancer-root, as a alternative, isn't much more appealing.
Also on the rocky hillside that supported the Squawroot I found this turkey feather lodged among rocks (and poison ivy).


Grizz………… said...

It has been a long time since I last saw Squawroot, and I'm glad for the reminder and info. Don't know Beechdrops, though. Nice photos.

Scott said...

I see Beechdrops much more frequently than I do Squawroot, Grizz. Beechdrops usually emerge in autumn. I'll keep my eyes open this year and hopefully will be able to create a post about another broom-rape in a few months.

packrat said...

Awesome specimen, Scott. I noticed, too, that in your last post you had an image of tent caterpillars. I had a similar photo on my blog a few posts back, tent caterpillars in the Sacramento Mountains.

Scott said...

The tent caterpillars are just getting started here, Packrat!

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

We don't have squawroot here but plenty of different broomrapes, plants that have always fascinated me by the sheer oddity of their appearance.
BTW I posted a pic of an angel playing a serpent recently.

Scott said...

John, any plant that can get by without chlorophyll is fascinating to me, too. I'm also fascinated by the dodders, parasitic, non-photosynthetic plants that look like orange spaghetti or silly string sprawling all over their victims. I see in my botanical literature that there are eight species of dodder in my region, one of which, clover dodder (Cuscuta epithymum), is native to Europe, so you may see it there, too.

And, I DID see that you posted an image of an angel playing a serpent for me! Thank you!