17 April 2010

Amazing Mycotrophs

They lack chlorophyll and do not photosynthesize but the mycotroph family of plants manages to somehow survive.  They may look like a something from another planet but they are very much of this earth.  Here, we take a look at these bizarre plants and their even stranger survival techniques.

The first plant of the list is the strange looking snowplant.  It has no chlorophyll and gets its nutrition from the fungi in the soil below it.  That fungi is called mycorrhizae and the conifer trees around them need the fungi to live.  The strands below the surface are very extensive and the conifers use them to bring water to the tree.  The snowplant takes advantage of that symbiotic relationship.

In fact it is a parasite.  It grabs the photosynthates from the fungus and so is able to survive without doing the hard job of photosynthesis itself.  You will only see this particular plant around conifers.  Take the tree and the underlying fungus away and it would not be able to survive.  Quite why something so violently red that appears in the summer is called a snowplant is anyone’s guess.

Image Credit Flickr User brewbrook
This is the candystick and you can see at the first glimpse why it is called this. Once seen candystick is never forgotten. It looks as if it could be plucked from the ground and placed in a Christmas stocking instead of a striped peppermint stick.  Others compare this gorgeous plant to soft coral and they certainly have a point.

From such vibrant colors let’s now go to the somewhat spooky looking Ghost Plant.  The lack of chlorophyll in the plant means that like the snowplant it gets its photosynthates from the fungus in the ground below it.  For a long time scientists thought that it lived off dead and decaying matter, but that turned out to be not the case.

It looks like a daffodil drained of its color.  They are very commonly mistaken for fungus because of their appearance.

The ghost plant has a mutualistic relationship with the fungus.  Others that are parasitic, although still classified as mycotrophs are known as myco-heterotrophs more accutately.

You can probably already guess why Pinefoot is named such.  It is a herb but you may not like the smell.  It depends on whether you like cheese, as the pinefoot has a scent which is reminiscent of brie.  Not to everybody’s taste, that’s for sure.

Some of these plants are fairly common.  Others, like the gnome plant above are very rare.  It is native to the west coast of North America and can be found in places like the redwood forests.

It has no stem and is small and fleshy and looks like a small lump in the leaves on the ground.  When it flowers, though, it looks quite extraordinary.  Eventually it berries and these will form the basis of the next generation.

The broomrape grows high – often up to thirty five centimeters and when it flowers they can be up to five centimeters in length.

Light to dark purple in color, it lacks leaves and like the other plants in this collection, it lacks chlorophyll too.  It is usually associated with the California goldenrod and sagebrush plants.

Our final plant in this collection is an orchid – the Coralroot to be specific.  Perhaps it is a matter of taste but most people find this delicate plant a lot more comfortable on the eye than the others included here.

An amazing fact about this orchid is that its seed are only about .2mm in diameter. That makes them smaller than some of the more unusual bacterial cells on this planet.  They are barely visible to the human eye.  Just one seed capsule from this remarkable plant may contain anything up to four million seeds.