Beautiful Parasite

With a garden full of North American plants, I often dig up the ones that reproduce enthusiastically, and donate them to Fort Williams Park Foundation. A very appropriate species is Seaside Goldenrod, a well-behaved version that, as its name implies, does well near salt water. I first saw Seaside Goldenrod as a tiny little plant clinging to Dyer Point rocks, but it grows larger in regular soil.

When gardening with native plants, surprises happen almost daily. One recent discovery, which I hope will repeat itself at the Park, came when an odd little flower sprang up from the roots of Seaside Goldenrod.

During early June, I noticed several clumps of Orobanche uniflora (aka one-flowered broom-rape) in a group of Seaside Goldenrod near my front gate. According to gobotany.newenglandwild.org, this plant derives all of its nutrients by invading the root system of its host—making it a parasite! Its hosts include sedums, goldenrods and others.

Orobanche occurs throughout New England, and its five flower petals may be blue, purple, or white.  Parasites don’t need green leaves, so the flowers perch on top of fuzzy brownish stems. Following flowering, the small (6-12 mm) fruit dries and splits open when ripe.

Mary Hodgkin
Board Member, Fort Williams Park Foundation
maryh777@gmail.com

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