Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Squawroot, Conopholis americana, is an odd plant that has the look of something struggling to stay alive. The photo shows it in full bloom and despite the pale coloration, this is a plant in peak condition. My first encounter with this plant left me wondering just what kind of oddity I had found.

The flower spikes emerge from the ground looking like malformed pine cones. Squawroot is like the person that never seems to fit in. In the middle of a woods full of enchanting and delicate spring flowers, you have this brute of a spike pushing through the leaves, displaying its unhealthy looking browns and pale yellows. It’s not hard to see why some hikers give it a wide berth, as though afraid of contracting whatever disease has ravaged the plant.

The flower buds are hidden behind rough looking scales. The emerging flowers push themselves up over the lip of the scale.

Squawroot is parasitic on oak trees. The bulk of the plant is underground where it bonds with the roots of the tree. It’s one of those odd plants that lacks chlorophyll and takes all of its energy from the host. I’m always encouraged by plants like this since a healthy parasite population is normally indicative of healthy hosts.

Squawroots often form large clusters of flower stalks. I’ve never seen any flying insects around these plants, so I don’t know what the pollinator might be. Crab spiders often hide on the flowers indicting that there must be some insect that visits. It’s possible that it is visited by some species of moth or other night flying insect. Maybe I should design a trap that can be put over the flowers to collect any insect visitors. I’ll add that to my ever growing list of things to do.


  1. I've not come across this one, but it reminds me in a general way of Indian Pipe.

    Parasitic plants of all manner are cool.


  2. Very good pictures of the stages of it's growth!! Never seen anything like that one ,but there are some that are similar? Do you add to your to-do list like I do? Maybe I should say I have a ""when I get around to it list""!! :~}

  3. Ted - You're right. They both have the same general look when you spot them in the woods. Up close, Indian Pipe appears fragile, like it was made of spun sugar. Squawroot is more of a brute and looks like it could pierce your boot sole if you stomped it.

    grammie g - My to-do list has been growing for over 40 years. I'm just getting around to doing some of the things I added to my list when I was in high school. I'm going to have to pick up the pace if I want to make a dent in that list.

  4. Someone linked me to your blog as I had posted a picture of this plant asking what it was. Awesome, thanks for the info.

  5. Hi Teri. I'm glad my post was a help to you. Squawroot is a fascinating plant. It's great that you were able to find some.

  6. Dear Steve, I just spent part of my morning in search of the name of this plant. Using many different phrases in google image search, i finally hit upon the right combo that lead me to your site. And what a great site it is! An inspiration to my very beginner naturalist & blogger. Thank you so much for your good work. I look forward to exploring what you've already posted and reading some more--i linked to your page from my blog:
    best, sarajane

  7. Hi Sarajane. Thanks for the nice comments. I hope you find much of interest here.

  8. Thank you so much for this post ... I was out walking in the woods yesterday and found these things everywhere ...and now I know they were squawroot! Gotta love the internet and all of the good folks out there sharing information! Thanks again, kb

  9. Hi KB. Glad I could help. A first encounter with this plant can be quite a puzzling experience.