Mycotrophic Plants

Usually when we think of plants, we think of green leaves photosynthesizing in the sun. We call these autotrophs because they create their own energy. But there are some oddball plants, called heterotrophs, that get their energy from outside sources. Some of these parasitic plants attach straight to the root of a host plant, while others, known as mycotrophic, use fungi as intermediaries to derive energy from nearby host plants.

The nature trails at Alderbrook Resort and Spa are a great place to bear witness to these bizarre mycotrophic plants, and many of them pop up around this time of year. Keep an eye out for plants with names that will surely strike your curiosity, like Ghost Plant/ Indian Pipe; Coralroot; and Fringed Pinesap.

Pictured here is one of my personal favorites, the Allotropa, also known as Candystick because the stalk’s red and white stripes resemble a candy cane. These pretty parasites feed specifically on the Matsutake fungus, and are known to grow right alongside the trail on Dogwood Ridge.

Since the Candystick and other fungus flowers feed on fungi instead of photosynthesizing, they are below ground for much of the year until it’s time to emerge for flowering and seed dispersal. This means you ought to get out to Alderbrook Woods soon to see wildflowers that defy what we’ve come to know as plants.