Botany Photo of the Day
In science, beauty. In beauty, science. Daily.

February 16, 2016: Botany Photo of the Day will return this spring with a new format similar to the new UBC Botanical Garden web site. In the meantime, please enjoy the restored content!

Conopholis americana

Conopholis americana

Today marks another first for the Botany Photo of the Day - first photograph from someone not affiliated with UBC. This photograph was forwarded to Judy Newton, the garden's education coordinator, from a personal friend to see if Judy or someone else at the garden could identify the plant. With a little help from Holmgren's “Illustrated Companion to Gleason & Cronquist's Manual of the Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada”, we were able to positively identify it as Conopholis americana (usually, I post emailed ID requests to our Plant Identification Discussion Forum so everyone can learn but since it is being shared on Photo of the Day, that isn't necessary).

Conopholis americana is commonly known as American cancer-root, and is distributed throughout eastern North America. This photograph is from a few days ago, and was taken in Frozen Head State Campground near Wartburg, Tennessee by Sam Roberts. American cancer-root is a member of the plant family Orobanchaceae, and like most members of that family, it lacks chlorophyll and is wholly parasitic, in this case stealing nutrients from the roots of woody forest plants. Some orobanchaceous plants are only partly parasitic with a partial reliance on chlorophyll, like Castilleja, featured previously on Photo of the Day (and originally posted incorrectly under its previous family name, Scrophulariaceae).

Apparently, the ancestral plant of this family was either non-parasitic or partially parasitic, as it seems the strategy of being completely parasitic evolved on more than one occasion within the family (for references, see the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group entry on Orobanchaceae).

As I mentioned earlier, this is the first photograph on the Botany Photo of the Day by someone not affiliated with UBC. I think it'd be a good idea to continue with this and perhaps make it a once-a-week feature. It would help mix up the images a little more in terms of style and content, as well as de-emphasize the Pacific Northwest of North America. I'm thinking of setting up a couple systems - a Flickr tag as well as an area on the garden's discussion forums where people can submit photos for review. There'd have to be a few common-sense conditions, like “it has to be your photograph”, “you have to be comfortable with the Creative Commons license used” and “there's no guarantee your photo will ever be used”, but I don't think they'd be a barrier for most people. Would anyone be interested in contributing?


To see a photograph of the fruit, check out this thread from UBC's discussion forums for plant identification.

I am a biology student studying at SUNY Orange and
I'm so glad that this photo and some information was made available to an instructor here at the college.
I discovered this plant while hiking Storm King Mountain near Route 218 in the vicinity of Cornwall, NY. I found it in the seed bearing stage, growing in a heavily forested area where it was popping up in colonies
on an old logging road. It looked like fungi but on closer examination it definitely did not fit that category.

May 20 2009, finding Conopholis americana just emerging from the ground, looking very much like a yellow pinecone! in the oak beech woods at the Lab of Ornithology, Sapsucker Woods. Happy that I was able to use the photo here to help me ID it. Thanks!

Thanks for the information. I took a similar photo and wasted loads of time looking at photos of fungi to find the species. Finally decided it was a plant and that got me here.

This plant is extremely invasive with a root system, not to be believed! On top of being quite ugly is is extremely difficult to dig up. How can I eliminate it? There is more and more of it each year, although it just appeared, with just a couple of "stalks" just 2 years ago.

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