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Epifagus virginiana

Epifagus virginiana (L.) W. Bartram

Leptamnium virginianum (L.) Raf.

Beech-drops

KingdomPlantaePlants, but not fungi, lichens, or algae (from Stearn’s Botanical Latin)
SubkingdomTracheobiontaVascular plants—plants with a “circulatory system” for delivering water and nutrients
DivisionMagnoliophytaFlowering plants, also known as angiosperms
ClassMagnoliopsidaDicotyledons—plants with two initial seed leaves
SubclassAsteridaeA large class that encompasses asters
OrderLamialesAromatic herbs and shrubs, including lavender, lilac, olive, jasmine, ash, teak, snapdragon, sesame, psyllium, garden sage, mint, basil, and rosemary
FamilyOrobanchaceaeBroomrape family of parasitic plants
GenusEpifagus“Upon the beech,” since these plants are beech tree root parasites
Speciesvirginiana“From Virginia”

About plant names...

I was wondering what killed all the little plants that we were passing as we hiked up Beech Hill in New Hampshire. All the plants were about a foot high, dark red-brown, stripped of their leaves, perhaps by deer. No sense photographing them, I figured, since they would be impossible to identify without any leaves or flowers.

Shortly before we finished our hike I changed my mind. Can’t hurt to try. So I took a few photos. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized that these were perfectly healthy. They lacked leaves because they didn’t need them, and they weren’t green because they aren’t photosynthetic. As for flowers, they were right there in front of my nose, but small and inconspicuous, a deep shade of red-purple similar to that of the stem. Beech drops are parasites, deriving their energy from the roots of the beech trees that were all around us, natives like the trees upon which they prey.

Identification: Plants are 6-20" (15-50 cm) high, reddish brown in color, but herbaceous, not woody. Stems are light brown with purple stripes, darkening with age. Leaves are vestigial and nearly invisible, often described as scales. Flowers are about ½" (1.3 cm) long, shaped like a tube, sometimes square-edged, appearing alternately along the stems, a mixture of deep red/purple and white or yellow. From a distance their color is brownish, blending with that of the stems, so the flowers are easily overlooked. They bloom from August to October.

Online References:

Epifagus virginiana at Illinois Wildflowers

Epifagus virginiana on gobotany.newenglandwild.org

Epifagus virginiana at the University of Wisconsin's Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium

Epifagus virginiana at the Vanderbilt University Bioimages web site

Epifagus virginiana on the Connecticut Botanical Society's Connecticut wildflowers site

Epifagus virginiana on Plants for a Future, a resource and information centre for edible and otherwise useful plants

Epifagus virginiana at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

References:

Clemants, Steven; Gracie, Carol, Wildflowers in the Field and Forest, Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 262

Epifagus virginiana (Beech-drops)

9/29/2013 · South Bubble Hike, Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, ME
≈ 6 × 7" (15 × 18 cm)

Epifagus virginiana description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 2 Oct 2013.

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Epifagus virginiana (Beech-drops)

9/7/2013 · Beech Hill, Dublin, NH
≈ 6 × 8" (14 × 20 cm)

Epifagus virginiana (Beech-drops)

9/7/2013 · Beech Hill, Dublin, NH
≈ 6 × 6" (14 × 16 cm)

Epifagus virginiana (Beech-drops)

9/7/2013 · Beech Hill, Dublin, NH
≈ 7 × 10" (18 × 24 cm)

Range:

About this map...