BEECHDROPS





(Septamnium Virginianum; Epifegus Virginiana of Gray)

Broom-rape family



Flowers - Small, dull purple and white, tawny, or brownish

striped; scattered along loose, tiny bracted, ascending branches.

Stem: Brownish or reddish tinged, slender, tough, branching

above, 6 in. to 2 ft. tall, from brittle, fibrous roots.

Preferred Habitat - Under beech, oak, and chestnut trees.

Flowering Season - August-October.

Distribution - New Brunswick, westward to Ontario and Missouri,

south to the Gulf States.



Nearly related to the broom-rape is this less attractive pirate,

a taller, brownish-purple plant, with a disagreeable odor, whose

erect, branching stem without leaves is still furnished with

brownish scales, the remains of what were once green leaves in

virtuous ancestors, no doubt. But perhaps even these relics of

honesty may one day disappear. Nature brands every sinner

somehow; and the loss of green from a plant's leaves may be taken

as a certain indication that theft of another's food stamps it

with this outward and visible sign of guilt. The grains of green

to which foliage owes its color are among the most essential of

products to honest vegetables that have to grub in the soil for a

living, since it is only in such cells as contain it that

assimilation of food can take place. As chlorophyll, or

leaf-green, acts only under the influence of light and air, most

plants expose all the leaf surface possible; but a parasite,

which absorbs from others juices already assimilated, certainly

has no use for chlorophyll, nor for leaves either; and in the

broom-rape, beech-drops, and Indian pipe, among other thieves, we

see leaves degenerated into bracts more or less without color,

according to the extent of their crime. Now they cannot

manufacture carbohydrates, even if they would, any more than

fungi can.



On the beech-drop's slender branches two kinds of flowers are

seated: below are the minute fertile ones, which never open, but,

without imported pollen, ripen an abundance of seed with

literally the closest economy. Nevertheless, to save the species

from still deeper degeneracy through perpetual

self-fertilization, small purplish-striped flowers above them

mature stigmas and anthers on different days, and invite insect

visits to help them produce a few cross-fertilized seeds. Even a

few will save it. Every plant which bears cleistogamous or blind

flowers - violets, wood-sorrel, jewelweed, among others - must

also display some showy ones.





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