(Septamnium Virginianum) Broom-rape family
(Epifegus Virginiana of Gray)
FlowersSmall, 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 HabitatUnder beech, oak, and chestnut trees.
DistributionNew 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 f 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 f 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 carbo-hydrates, 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 flowersviolets, wood-sorrel, jewel-weed, among othersmust also display some showy ones.