One of my favorite wildflowers

I’m on annual leave this week, enjoying a family reunion in Sun River, Oregon. I’ve been coming here off and on for decades, and one of the first things I do is hunt down my favorite eastern Oregon plant. Forests in this part of Oregon are dominated by Ponderosa and other pine species, and beneath these trees you might find tall brown flower spikes which many people assume are dead. Actually, they are alive and kicking and fascinating. Meet Pterospora andromedea, otherwise known as pinedrops.

If you look at the flowers closely, their shape might remind you of some other flowers – perhaps blueberries or salal or andromeda. They’re all members of the Ericaceae, and pinedrops are the only member of the Pterospera.

What’s fascinating about this plant is that it spends most of its life underground as a parasite, siphoning food from mycorrhizal fungi (which are connected to nearby roots of pines and other photosynthetic plants). In the summer, it sends up huge reddish-brown flower spikes, with sticky, bell-shaped flowers.

Pinedrops are threatened or endangered in some midwestern and eastern states, and should never be dug from the wild.  It doesn’t transplant well, anyway, so take pictures instead – they’ll last longer!

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Linda Chalker-Scott

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott has a Ph.D. in Horticulture from Oregon State University and is an ISA certified arborist and an ASCA consulting arborist. She is WSU’s Extension Urban Horticulturist and an Associate Professor in the Department of Horticulture, and holds two affiliate associate professor positions at University of Washington. She conducts research in applied plant and soil sciences, publishing the results in scientific articles and university Extension fact sheets. Linda also is the award-winning author of five books: the horticultural myth-busting The Informed Gardener (2008) and The Informed Gardener Blooms Again (2010) from the University of Washington Press and Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens: Good Science – Practical Application (2009) from GFG Publishing, Inc., and How Plants Work: The Science Behind the Amazing Things Plants Do from Timber Press (2015). Her latest effort is an update of Art Kruckeberg’s Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest from UW Press (2019). In 2018 Linda was featured in a video series – The Science of Gardening – produced by The Great Courses. She also is one of the Garden Professors – a group of academic colleagues who educate and entertain through their blog and Facebook pages. Linda’s contribution to gardeners was recognized in 2017 by the Association for Garden Communicators as the first recipient of their Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award. "The Garden Professors" Facebook page - www.facebook.com/TheGardenProfessors "The Garden Professors" Facebook group - www.facebook.com/groups/GardenProfessors Books: http://www.sustainablelandscapesandgardens.com

2 thoughts on “One of my favorite wildflowers”

  1. Linda, are pine drops related to beechdrops? I know to look under American beeches to find beechdrops here in New England…

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