Now this time I really mean it.
Hard to find. Hidden. Fugitive. Intangible.
I’ve been hunting this flower ever since I became fascinated with its cousin the indian pipe. That was in 2011. Since that time I have found it once.
Once. (shades of Johnny Dangerously)
It was in Hollis NH and the flowers were long gone by. Just dry brown sticks. So I revisited the following year.
Zip. Zilch. Nada.
But then. On a spontaneous trip to the Musquash with my husband. Lo – Pinesap.
Irony of Ironies that I should find my most sought-after wildflower (well, kinda…the list is long) practically in my own backyard. My surrogate backyard is how I usually refer to the Musquash. It was right on the edge of one of the main trails, standing tall and proud in its pale glory. Stopped me in my tracks I can tell you. My husband thought I was nuts, but he understood as he’s heard me wax poetic about this strange flower many times. Good thing he didn’t have his phone with him or he’d have really good blackmail footage of my dance of joy. Pretty much for the rest of our walk he would hear me say, in a dreamy monotone “pinesap”.
Another irony is that I missed the blooming by days. The flowers are not quite dried up, but appear to have been pollinated and are past their prime. Like indian pipe, this flower lacks chlorophyll and so isn’t green and produces no leaves since without chlorophyll it cannot photosynthesize energy from sunlight. Instead it uses fungi in the soil to tap root systems of other plants to siphon energy for themselves. The plants I found are almost a foot high. I couldn’t believe how big they were.
My guide book says that there are early and late-blooming specimens and that they are actually different species. They bloom from June to November and I found these in August. That probably makes them early given the fact that NH is a northern state. In addition to being bigger, another difference from indian pipe is that there are multiple blossoms per stem. Check it out –
Sure, they’re not the loveliest things in the world, but they’re so interesting. They’re supposed to propagate well once the seeds have been scattered and judging by that group up there, we’ve got a lot of seeds to spread. I’ve already put a reminder in my calendar to check back next year. I know right where they are so can go to them fast.
Another name for pinesap is false beech-drops, another saprophytic flower that I’ve tried to photograph in the past, with somewhat limited success (mostly because I missed the blooming). The other day I founds some hanging out with ferns and it really made them stand out (plus they were actually fresh). Normally they blend right in with the undergrowth and because each flower is only 1/2 an inch long when bloomed, they tend to get really lost. This is as good as I could do given the conditions (basically I was on a slope of a ditch next to a snowmobile trail).
Like other plants without chlorophyll, beechdrops exist as parasites on beech tree root systems. They’re self-fertilizing and spread like crazy.
So anyway…expect to see pinesap again next summer. I’m going to try to be diligent about finding them in their early stages with lush blossoms. I’m so excited!
What synchronicity. Here’s Mary Holland’s post today: http://naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com/2014/09/04/beechdrops-flowering/