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
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.