Wildflowers that are parasites

Parasite.

To humans, the word has a pejorative connotation.

None of the plants shown below are green in color.  That’s because they each lack chlorophyll, that green substance that traps light energy from the sun, which is then used by those green plants to combine carbon dioxide and water into sugars in the process of photosynthesis.  Since the plants shown below don’t fuel their activities by photosynthesis, each must obtain its food from other plants known as “hosts.”  Some of the plants shown below have very specific plant hosts that they rely upon, while others are far more indiscriminate.

Be that as it may, each of the following opportunistic plants offers its own version of blooms to earn the right to be called a wildflower.

 

Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora) –

Indian Pipe

Indian Pipe is a native perennial forb.  The plant hosts of Indian Pipe are certain fungi whom themselves have a symbiotic relationship with the roots of trees; this biological relationship is called a mycorrhiza.  Since Indian Pipe is not dependent on sunlight to grow, it can often be found in relatively dark environments such as the forest floor of dense woodlands.

Indian Pipe: New blooms on the left, stems and empty seed pods from last year on the right

After blooms have been pollinated, the plant straightens out to stand vertically and, as it goes dormant, the plant stem dries out to form a rigid “pole” atop which the seed pod then disburses its contents by simply popping open.  I think the seed pods resemble pumpkins.

Indian Pipe

The dried plant stems and seed pods of Indian Pipe are weather-resistant and therefore remain persistent on the forest floor.  Once you recognize this life stage, you will be able to easily and confidently identify this specific wildflower at any time of the year – even in winter.  Welcome to forensic botanizing!

Indian Pipe

 

Pinesap (Monotropa hypopitys) –

Like Indian Pipe, Pinesap is a native perennial forb that also obtains its nourishment from fungi associated with tree roots, often those of oaks and pines.

Pinesap

The dried plant stems and seed pods of Pinesap, just like those of Indian Pipe, are weather-resistant.  They, too, persist on the forest floor.  Note that, unlike the single seed pod on each stem that Indian Pipe exhibited, Pinesap always exhibits more than one seed pod per stem.  Once you recognize this life stage, you will also be able to easily and confidently identify this specific wildflower at any time of the year – even in winter.

Pinesap

 

Beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana) –

Beechdrops is a native annual forb.  Beechdrops parasitize the roots of beech trees using a structure called a haustorium which collects the nutrients the plant requires from its host.

Beechdrops

Beechdrops

Just as with Indian Pipe and Pinesap, the dried plant stems and seed pods of Beechdrops are weather-resistant and therefore persist on the forest floor throughout the year.  Therefore, they too, enable you to identify this specific wildflower once you learn to recognize this life stage.

Beechdrops

 

Common Dodder (Cuscuta gronovii var. gronovii) –

Common Dodder is a native annual vine.  While it can be found in a variety of habitats, most often you can find it growing in damp areas with partial or full sunshine, such as the edges of wetlands or streams.

Similar to Beechdrops, Common Dodder relies on haustoria to draw moisture and nutrients from its host.  However, these haustoria are located along the stems of this plant and they effectively serve as modified roots that penetrate the host plant.  In the photo above, the yellowish orange stem with white flowers is Common Dodder.  Note that it is wound around its host; in this case, the host plant is Mad-dog Skullcap.  However, Common Dodder is not associated exclusively with Mad-dog Skullcap.  In fact, it is quite indiscriminate in the variety of host plant species to which it attaches.

Watch “Attach of the Parasitic Plant!” featuring Common Dodder.

Happy trails!

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Winter Plant ID – Answers now revealed

And the answers are…

Thanks to everyone who participated.  Most importantly, I hope each of you had an enjoyable outing in your search for plants matching those in the photos.

Well, you’ve seen the plant rubble remnants in the photos I supplied for this quiz.  Now, what were those plants and what do they look like when in bloom?  Let’s have a look…

The plants included in this quiz were the following:

(1)    Queen Anne’s Lace

Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne’s Lace

(2)    Burdock

Common Burdock

Common Burdock

Great Burdock

Great Burdock

(3)    Wild Parsnip

Wild Parsnip

Wild Parsnip

(4)    Horseweed

Horseweed

Horseweed

(5)    Selfheal

Selfheal

Selfheal

(6)    Thimbleweed

Thimbleweed

Thimbleweed

(7)    Common Mullein

Common Mullein

Common Mullein

(8)    Purple Loosestrife

Purple Loosestrife

Purple Loosestrife

(9)    Sweet Clover

White Sweet Clover

White Sweet Clover

Yellow Sweet Clover

Yellow Sweet Clover

(10)Yarrow

Yarrow

Yarrow

(11)Cattail

Common Cattail

Common Cattail

(12)Milkweed

Common Milkweed

Common Milkweed

(13)Thistle

Swamp Thistle

Swamp Thistle

(14)Tall Blue Lettuce

Tall Blue Lettuce

Tall Blue Lettuce

(15)Virgin’s Bower

Virgin's Bower

Virgin’s Bower

(16)Aster

Purple-stemmed Aster

Purple-stemmed Aster

White Wood Aster

White Wood Aster

(17)Jerusalem Artichoke

Jerusalem Artichoke

Jerusalem Artichoke

PLEASE NOTE:  All of the quiz’s winter photos were taken along the Historic Champlain Canalway trail in the Town of Halfmoon, south of Brookwood Road.  If you have not yet visited this trail (south of Upper Newtown Road to this segment), I urge you to do so if you want to view a wide variety of wildflowers blooming throughout the growing season.  Since it adjoins the Historic Champlain Canal, the trail is virtually flat and is comprised of crushed/compacted shale, which makes for an easy walk (and also wheelchair accessible).  Please view my wildflower field guide for this trail and watch for the announcement of an expanded version (which will include this southernmost segment) later this month.

Happy trails!

Welcome to my Blog!

This “Curious By Nature” blog will be used to supplement my “Curious By Nature” web site.  I anticipate that this blog will be updated more frequently than my web site with whatever nature findings I may discover along local trails as well as announcement of wildflower walks that I’ll be hosting throughout each growing season.

I hope you’ll become a follower of this blog and please feel free to post questions about plants, particularly wildflowers, that you would like identified.  Also, consider joining me as I continue my wildflower inventories of area nature preserves, parks and trails – just send me an email message to dave@curiousbynature.mysite.com.  Each inventory will result in a new (or updated) wildflower guide.

Happy trails!