Plant of the Week
Woodland Pinedrops (Pterospora andromedea Nutt.)
By Sue Trull
Woodland pinedrops is a tall, reddish-purple plant with a sticky, unbranched stem. It has small, white to pink, urn-shaped flowers which hang upside-down. The leaves are small and scale-like, mostly on the lower stem, also purplish. Following flowering in mid to late summer, the stems become quite woody and stiff, making an interesting dried flower.
Pinedrops is a member of the Indian-pipe family (Monotropaceae). Pinedrops is a root parasite, depending on its association with a mycorrhizal fungus that is also associated with a pine tree. Pinedrops produces very little chlorophyll and is therefore not green in color and does not conduct photosynthesis.
Pinedrops is primarily a western species, with disjunctive locations in the Black Hills and Great Lakes area, and scattered sites in Quebec and New England. It typically occurs in small populations and individual pinedrops plants may not appear above ground every year. It usually occurs in conifer forest or mixed conifer-hardwood forest.
Pinedrops is listed as threatened in Michigan, and endangered in New York, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Reasons for its rarity include typically small population sizes; short-lived seeds; variable occurrence and dormancy at a given site; and association with specific fungal and conifer partners. Pinedrops seeds are difficult to germinate and establish, and plants do not transplant well. This woodland oddity is best enjoyed where one finds it.