Albino Plants vs Parasitic Plants

One of the really neat things about doing this field research is that I’ve been able to see things that I’ve learned about in class, but that I’ve never seen in person before. Two of these are albino plants and parasitic plants that naturally lack chlorophyll.

Albino plants are plants that would normally have chlorophyll, but are born without it due to a mutation. These plants are relatively rare, because without chlorophyll to make sugar, albino plants can’t feed themselves, and don’t usually survive long. Sometimes albino trees can be fed by the roots of other, nearby mature trees, but it’s not known how common this is. I found a juvenile albino plant next to one of the plots in the north end of the College Woods. While the lack of color makes it difficult to tell, I believe this plant is a juvenile Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica), due to the acute tips and the almost pleated-looking veins.

Juvenile albino Black Gum

Juvenile albino Black Gum

There are other plants, however, that naturally don’t have chlorophyll because they get their sugar from other places. Many of these plants are parasites, feeding off of fungi or the roots of other plants. There are at least three species of this type of plant in the College Woods, two of which I’ve seen. The first is called Beech Drop (Epifagus virginiana), and it’s a brown, annual plant that flowers in the summer and is often found under beech trees. The second one, Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora), is actually in the blueberry family! As they mature, the flowers look similar to the bell-shaped flowers of blueberries. The one I took a picture of was found near the Keck Lab, just as it was coming out of the ground. The one I found is light orange, but they can also range from pink to pure white, and some even have black spots.

Indian Pipe

Indian Pipe – a parasitic plant

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