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Filed under Outdoor Notes

May 23, 2010

The Broomrape family contains several parasitic plants. The most common of these in the mountains is Squawroot (Conopholis americana).

Squawroot (Conopholis americana)

Squawroot (Conopholis americana)

Most people notice Squawroot in the winter when it looks like old rotten pine cones sticking up from the ground, all that remains of a bright yellow flowering plant that blooms in late May and early June.



Squawroot is a relatively long-lived plant; individual plants live about ten years. It tends to parasitize oak. Another member of the family, Beechdrops, as the name suggests, parasitizes beech. In both cases, the mechanism involves a specialized root hair (haustoria) that invades the root hairs of the host in order to steal nutrients.

Seen from a distance, a clump of Squawroot always reminds me of a cluster of candles jutting up from the forest floor.

Knowing that they only grow as parasites on oak, it is often interesting to see how near the closest oak is growing. Sometimes, they are not very close at all, which gives you a pretty good idea of the extent of the oak’s root system.

According to the ethnobotanists, Squawroot was used by Native Americans for various “female problems,” hence the name. Another common name is bear corn; apparently bears are very fond of the flowers and roots.

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