Explore Plants

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
    
 

Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
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)

 

 

More Plant Identification Questions

How Can I Tell an Invasive Thistle from a Native
May 01, 2012 - Mr Smarty Plants, I have some thistles coming up in my yard. I'd like to keep them if they are native, but not if they are invasive or non-native. How can I tell? My yard is a wild area in West Lak...
view the full question and answer

Identification of pale blue flower near Big Bend, TX
March 14, 2013 - I have looked almost everywhere in order to ID this bloom with no luck. Some blooms do arrive close but not quite. I live just outside of Big Bend National Park in Terlingua, TX. On a hike into Dog Ca...
view the full question and answer

Identification of a tree at David Crockett Cabin Museum in Tennessee
October 22, 2012 - I was in Lawrenceburg TN and stopped by the David Crockett Cabin Museum. There was a tree and it dropped lemon sized balls on the ground. What kind of tree is it?
view the full question and answer

Name for paloverde look-alike near Colorado Springs
July 26, 2011 - I don't know where this plant comes from. However, I am wondering what the name of plant of the following description would be. It is a shrub, about 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. It grows in zone 6 t...
view the full question and answer

Identification of Matelea reticulata
June 08, 2007 - I recently saw blooming in an Austin park a small white-green flower ( 3/4 ") with a center that looked like a small pearl. Any idea what it is. I can't find it in my flower book, It was on a waist...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.