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Beechdrops

Ghosts of August

ghosts of August 190Flowering plants have a variety of ways to obtain food.  Most have chlorophyll and thus are capable of photosynthesizing their own nutrients.  A majority of these plants (90%) are also associated with mycorrhizal fungi – fungi which attach to the roots of other plants, often trees, with which most have a symbiotic relationship (both benefit). The plant receives minerals and water from the fungi, and the fungi feed on carbohydrates and other nutrients the plant produces.

Flowering plants with no chlorophyll cannot make their own food and must rely completely on other organisms for their nutrients.  Some of these parasitic plants get their nutrients directly from the roots of another plant (Beechdrops) and others (Indian Pipe and Pinesap) receive food indirectly from fungi which get their nutrients from a photosynthetic plant.  In these situations, the mycorrhizal relationship between the non-photosynthetic plant and the fungi is not mutualistic, as only the chlorophyll-lacking plant benefits. (Photo:  Indian Pipe, Monotropa uniflora (one flower per stalk) and (insert) Pinesap, Monotropa hypopitys (many flowers per stalk).

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Beechdrops Flowering

9-4-14  beechdrops 249Beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana) are parasitic plants which obtain nutrients from the American Beech tree. They insert a root-like structure called a haustorium into a beech root and absorb enough nutrition to sustain themselves and produce flowers between August and October. Beechdrops belong to a family of plants (Broomrape) whose members live as root parasites. 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.

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