Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Yesterday I found another parasitic plant pushing up through the leaf litter beneath a scrappy white pine. Pinesap (Monotropa hypopithys) is related to Indian pipe, which I noted last week is popping up everywhere.

Pinesap has a yellowish color, unlike the ghostly white of Indian pipe. Also, pinesap has many flowers (3-10) on its nodding "pipe," while Indian pipe bears only one flower.

The two plants are similar in their lack of chlorophyll and lack of photosynthetic abilities. Instead they sustain a parastic life by feeding off the roots of fungi. Earlier I wrote about another non-photosynthesizer, the uncommon cancer-root. The latter plant prefers rich soils, whereas of the three parasitic plants, the pinesap seems to occur in poor, acidic soils beneath oaks and pines. Note the poison ivy in front of the pinesap, usually an indication of a disturbed site with relatively poor soils.

The pinesap, Indian pipe, and cancer-root are all somewhat fleshy like fungi, so they may be mistaken for such. However they are all flowering plants, producing flowers and seeds, whereas fungi reproduce by spores and are in their own separate Kingdom from plants. With all the rain this summer I expect a profusion of fungi in the coming weeks.

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