One of the stranger wildflowers of the eastern forests is Conopholis americana, also known as squawroot, American cancer-root, and bearcorn. It looks like a fungus popping up out of the ground. But it’s a plant, and a good reminder that not all wildflowers are, well, wildflowery. This particular flower doesn’t photosynthesize; it lives by parasitizing the roots of trees, sucking the necessary nutrients out. (To the botanists, it’s an “achlorophylous obligate root parasite of Quercus spp.”) The picture above was taken in May in the Native Flora Garden of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The picture below, in the Catskills a couple of weeks ago, after the flowers had bloomed and the seeds set. Click on images for larger views.Two of the common names suggest the plant has been used for medicinal purposes, going back to indigenous peoples; “bearcorn” that bears like to eat it. The plant is listed as “exploitably vulnerable” in New York State, meaning “likely to become threatened in the near future throughout all or a significant portion of their range within the state if causal factors continue unchecked.”
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This work by Matthew Wills is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.