Rent Shop Volunteer Join

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Saturday - August 23, 2008

From: Rapid City, SD
Region: Midwest
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Weird-looking rootless plant, perhaps a fungus
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

While out it my backyard (i.e. the Black Hills of South Dakota), I spotted a weird-looking rootless plant (I think it may be a fungus) growing beneath the Ponderosa Pines. It was the only one in the area and the only one I've ever seen. Anyway, further identifying features: ~18 inch stem -- bright pink and sticky Inverted yellow bell-like "flowers" at the top with not many "leaves" to speak of I know fungi aren't plants, but do you have any idea what it is?

ANSWER:

Mr. Smarty Plants believes you saw Pterospora andromedea (woodland pinedrops). Here is more information from Michigan Natural Features Inventory and here are some more photos. It is a very interesting plant since it has no chlorophyll and can't make its own food. it forms an association with a mychorrihizal fungus which is then associated with tree roots, generally pine tree roots. Botanists consider it to be saprophytic (living on dead organic matter), instead of parasitic on the pine tree or, alternatively, parasitic on the fungus. There is also the thought that this is a beneficial relationship with the mychorrhizal fungus in which the fungus increases the supply of nutrients to the plant by increasing the surface area by which it can absorb decaying matter. The fungus may benefit by using some of the carbohydrates that the plant produces. Such plants that associate with mychorrhizal fungi are called mycotrophic plants.

Here are some more flowers that resemble fungus.

Here are mycotrophic orchids that occur in South Dakota.

Corallorhiza odontorhiza (autumn coralroot)

Corallorhiza maculata (summer coralroot)

Corallorhiza striata (hooded coralroot)

Corallorhiza trifida (yellow coralroot)

Corallorhiza wisteriana (spring coralroot)


Pterospora andromedea

Pterospora andromedea

Pterospora andromedea

Pterospora andromedea

 

 

More Plant Identification Questions

Plant Identification
June 29, 2011 - I live in east Austin Texas, close to Manor. I was pulling a particular "weed" out of the cracks of my driveway on 06-12-11. This weed has always reminded me of moss rose, but the flowers are not as...
view the full question and answer

Identification of giant lilies
October 12, 2007 - I have giant lilies that I can't identify. The bulbs are about 4" in diameter, the leaves are 4 ft long. The flowers of the pink emerge only in the early summer, the flowers of the red emerge in s...
view the full question and answer

Invasive spreading weed in Michigan that looks like a small pine tree
July 29, 2013 - I have an invasive spreading weed in my gardens. It has black root system, comes up looking like a small pine tree. The green breaks off when you try to pull it.
view the full question and answer

Care for Vauquelinia angustifolia (Chisos Rosewood)
June 08, 2008 - Hello, I have another question for you. A friend has given me a plant called "Chisos Rosewood" which they bought on a whim but decided they couldn't use. It's said to be evergreen. It's about...
view the full question and answer

Plant identification
June 01, 2009 - I'm trying to identify a bush/shrub that is approx. 6 ft. with leaves like an azalea but has orange hot air balloon shaped balls that turn to small orange flowers. Blooming now in May. Dies back ea...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.