July 7, 2020

Picky Parasite

Melampyrum lineare - Narrowleaf cowwheat

Melampyrum lineare – Narrowleaf cowwheat | Photo courtesy of Glen Mittelhauser/Maine Natural History Observatory

Melampyrum lineare is a curious plant, dependent on the root systems of certain plants to survive. According to Go Botany, it is a native annual “hemiparasite,” (partial parasite) using its own specialized root structures to invade the roots of its host plant to siphon off nutrients and perform photosynthesis. Cow wheat, as it is commonly called, is a low-growing groundcover and can be found keeping company with “several species of pine (Pinus) and poplar (Populus), as well as sugar maple (Acer saccharum), red oak (Quercus rubra), and even lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium),” Go Botany says. The flowers resemble a snake’s head, with the white and yellow tubular blossoms in season June through August.

Wild Wednesday is a collaboration of Garden Maine and Glen Mittelhauser of the nonprofit Maine Natural History Observatory, www.mainenaturalhistory.org.