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Beechdrops Flowering

10-1-18 beechdrops

Congratulations to “imachayes,” producer of blog, for being the first (of many) readers to correctly identify the most recent Mystery Photo as a Beechdrops flower. A fairly inconspicuous brown stem produces two types of flowers, cleistogamous flowers that self-pollinate without ever opening, and chasmogamous flowers that open, but are often sterile. Those that are not sterile are pollinated by ants as well as other insects.

Beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana) is a flowering plant that lacks chlorophyll and thus cannot photosynthesize and make its own food.  Instead, this plant obtains nutrients from American Beech trees. It belongs to a family of plants (Broomrape) whose members live as root parasites. Beechdrops insert a root-like structure called an haustorium (see photo inset) into an American Beech tree’s root and absorb enough nutrition to sustain themselves and produce flowers between August and October.  Being annuals, Beechdrops don’t live long enough to damage their host trees.

Because they lack chlorophyll and obvious leaves (their leaves are scale-like and pressed flat against their stem), Beechdrops are easily overlooked. Keep an eye on the forest floor near American beech trees for these 5 – 18-inch plants which are flowering right now. (Photo:  Beechdrops at base of an American Beech tree; inset:  root system of Beechdrops)

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4 responses

  1. Alice Pratt

    I’m going to look for those under our many Beech Trees

    October 1, 2018 at 8:54 am

  2. Alonso Abugattas

    Very interesting, thank you. However, I have heard that these are not actually beech tree parsaites, but rather, Myco-heterotrophs, feeding off the obligate mycorrhyzal fungus associated with beech. it’s a three way relationship, with the beech drops taking food from the fungi who needs the beech. Also, ants I had not known were pollinators rather than pollen raiders, not being built to carry pollen, eating it instead, and not travelling far enough to pollinate other plants?

    October 1, 2018 at 9:34 am

    • Thank you, Alonso. You are correct about the mycorrhyzal relationship. I debated going into the details of the connection between Beechdrops and American Beech, but opted not to. Thank you for providing the complete picture. Everything I’ve read indicates that it is likely that ants are playing an important role in the pollination of Beechdrops, but your comment about the distance travelled intrigues me.

      October 1, 2018 at 9:44 am

  3. Betsy Janeway

    Dear Mary Holland, I “got” the Beechdrops okay, but am stymied by a tiny pink flower, and I sent details to you at Word Press but they may not have reached you. I wrote:
    Dear Mary Holland,
    Can you identify this tiny pink flower growing amongst grasses and weeds in a former gravel pit? Its thin stem is only 3 -4 inches high. I have been through my trusty Peterson/McKenney wildflower guide several times and cannot find this flower (in either the pink or the violet sections). It’s by a dirt road into a Fish & Game wetland called Knight’s Meadow Marsh, in Webster, NH.
    Betsy Janeway
    But I don’t know how to send you the 2 photos of the flower!

    October 1, 2018 at 10:59 am

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