Schmarotzer (Freeloaders)

Town Mouse has returned and thanks Country Mouse for her musings and the GBBD post. While Town Mouse has not taken pictures in the last ten days, a backlog of posts is actually residing in the little Town Mouse head. Here's the first, about Schmarotzer (a German word for plants that get their nutrition from other plants and translates more or less as freeloaders).

The first photo is of Pinedrops (Pterospora andromedea), taken in Yosemite in July. Wikipedia says: "They live in relationship with mycorrhizal fungi that is not yet well understood, described as either parasitic or symbiotic upon the fungus by different experts. Whatever the exact relationship, they derive all their carbon from their associated fungus, which entirely covers the outside surface of the roots."

Similar, but more spectacular is Snow Plant (Sarcodes sanguinea). The photo doesn't quite show it, but this plant is red. Completely red. The US Forest Service Celebrating Wildflowers site says "Snow plant is difficult to confuse with other plants, and indeed stands a better chance of being confused with a misplaced piece of meat." Yep, that pretty much sums it up.

I was really enchanted by both plants, and do wonder whether there are so many of these freeloader plants here in CA because the available water is so unreliable that association with another organism might improve chances for survival.

Indian Warrior (Pedicularis densiflora), above a photo from Coe State Park, gets its nutrition in slightly different ways (from Wikipedia) "This species is a facultative parasite, or hemiparasite, in that it can live without attaching to another plant but will parasitize if presented with the opportunity. It often parasitizes plants of the heath family, such as manzanita."

Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja), above a photo taken in Yosemite, is quite common around here in the spring. Castilleja is hemiparasitic on the roots of grasses and forbs, which means it is parasitic under natural conditions and is also photosynthetic to some degree. Hemiparasites may just obtain water and mineral nutrients from the host plant. Many obtain at least part of their organic nutrients from the host as well. (Definitions from Wikipedia).

I do wish I knew more about these amazing plants, and still hope to plant the Indian Paintbrush, together with a host, in my garden one day. And with this wish, maybe we'll return to the state of the dry garden this week. There's some surprises, some losses, some mistakes. And above all, this is the time to consider what to plant this fall, when the rains come.


WiseAcre said…
The Snow Plant is my favorite of the bunch because of the color.
You can always tell a serious gardener, because as much as they look forward to gardens bursting into life in the spring, they're even more excited by fall and the chance to plant something new.
Brad B said…
I've always loved Indian paintbrush. I saw a lot of Indian warrior this year on Mt. Diablo. Very interesting. And snow plant is definitely hard to confuse with other plants when I'm in the sierras.