Tag Archives: Plants

Parasitic plants!

Lining part of the water trail in Las Cruces, we discovered these strawberry-looking inflorescence from a Balanophoraceae, perhaps Helosis sp.—-a type of parasitic plant. The majority of the plant’s body is subterranean and parasitizes other plant roots. Tubercles on the stems grow into fruiting bodies likes those pictured here.

I introduce plants to my biology students with parasite plants to illustrate that not all plants are green things that “make their own food.” Instead, they’re a diverse group of multicellular eukaryotes characterized by a common (and complex) life cycle, a waxy cuticle, probably stomata for gas exchange, and almost certainly a unique common ancestry. Just look at the “distinguishing characteristics” of Balanophoraceae!

I’ve seen Western Coral Root (Corallorhiza maculata in Oregon), Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora in New York and Ohio), beech drop (Epifagus virginiana in Ohio), and mistletoes before—all parasitic groups. The Balanophoraceae (barnacle bodies) is the only family of plants I’ve seen that are all obligate parasites.

 

A Georgia-Costa Rica connection

I’ve found these wax mallows (Malvaceae, Malvaviscus spp.) in both Savannah and Costa Rica. The species’ range of  M. arboreus – the likely Georgia resident – extends into South America, but there is an endemic to Costa Rica — M. palmanus. The specimen from Las Alturas has pubescent stems and sepals, but I’m not sure if this is characteristic.

A malvaceae in Las Alturas probably in genus Malvaviscus.
Malvaviscus aboreus in Savannah.