On woodland hikes during April and May students are often surprised by some strange-looking plant seeming to sneak up from below the fallen leaf litter. This specimen of Squawroot or Cancer-root (Conopholis americana) had become well established atop the forest floor. Spiked scales in place of leaves account for its extraordinary appearance: the upper scales with enclosed flowers are arranged in such a way as to resemble pine-cones. Actually, this herbaceous plant is a root-parasite on trees.
Gray's Manual of Botany lists the generic name Conopholis as derived from the Greek conos (cone) and pholis (scale). The specific name, americana (American), is obvious.
Copyright © 2005 William T. Hathaway.