IT emerges from the soil like a mini-plastic Christmas tree in the image of a red Mexican succulent. But it’s not a succulent or even an entire plant and it’s not from Mexico. Rather it’s the flowering stalk of a species closely related to the cranberry, blueberry, azalea and rhododendron and it grows in the Sierra Nevada of California. Apparently called snow plants because they emerge as the snow melts, these stalks were photographed in June along the Sliver Fork Trail in the Sierra Nevada by Aom, a hiking buddy of Larry – a regular commentator at this blog.
The species, Sarcodes sanguinea, has no chlorophyll and so, like most plants, can’t obtain its energy directly from the sun. Instead it is parasitic on fungi that also colonise the roots of pine trees. Experiments with radioactive carbon 14 show that the sugars from the conifer roots enter the fungi and then are transferred into the roots of the snow plant.
So we have a true vascular plants with flowers and seed-bearing capsules, that can’t photosynthesis, instead getting its energy from pine trees via fungi.
Does this all have something to do with being perfectly red?
Links and Notes
Regional specialization of Sarcodes sanguinea (Ericaceae) on a single fungal symbiont from the Rhizopogon ellenae (Rhizopogonaceae) species complex1
Annette M. Kretzer et al., American Journal of Botany, 2000, http://www.amjbot.org/cgi/content/full/87/12/1778