Posts Tagged ‘sand food’

Pholisma – Sand Food, a Parasitic Root Plant

December 26, 2008
Three flowers of Pholisma sonorae pushing out of the sand

Three flowers of Pholisma sonorae pushing out of the sand.

This odd plant, called “one of the most bizarre wildflowers in North America” by Wayne Armstrong, a professor at Palomar University, lives along with a few other members of its small genus in the deserts of the Southwestern United States. The genus includes Pholisma sonorae, otherwise known as “sand food,” which is pictured above, as well as Pholisma arenarium, also known as the “sand plant” and the “desert Christmas tree,” pictured below.

The flower of a sand plant parasitizing the roots of a "burro bush."

The flower of a sand plant parasitizing the roots of a "burro brush."

Special attributes:

  • Parasitism – these plants live mostly subterranean lives, deriving energy from the roots of other plants. They have no chlorophyll – the only time they ever come up to the surface is when they grow their flowers.
    These labels are thanks to Wayne Armstrong. A. Large, woody host root. B. Fleshy haustorial mass with numerous haustorial roots. C. Scaly sand food stem arising from haustorial mass. D. Old sand food stem from previous flowering season.

    These labels are thanks to Wayne Armstrong. A. Large, woody host root. B. Fleshy haustorial mass with numerous haustorial roots. C. Scaly sand food stem arising from haustorial mass. D. Old sand food stem from previous flowering season.

    This dune locoweed is serving as the host for several sand foods.

    This dune locoweed is serving as the host for at least one sand food plant.

    The sand food flower is attached to its roots by a long, scaly stem.

    The sand food flower is attached to its roots by a long, scaly stem.

More Information: Everything I typed up here (and more) can be found at the Pholisma page at Wayne’s Word (link below). It’s a very impressive site.

The Most Bizarre Wildflower in the United States [Wayne’s Word]

Pholisma [Wikipedia]

Image Sources:

Wayne’s Word (Palomar College Arboretum) – The Most Bizarre Wildflower in the United States (Image: Wayne P. Armstrong, 2008 )

Flickr – Pholisma arenarium, root parasite of “burro brush”. (Image: jdsanika, 2008 )

Note: All of the photos from Wayne’s Word came from the same page, so I didn’t make individual citations for each one. You can tell which ones are from Wayne’s Word by looking for a black frame around it and a “[Copyright] W.P. Armstrong 2008” in the bottom lefthand corner.