Giant Pinedrops

Pterospora andromedea

Species distinguishing characteristics: 

  • Sticky-haired, reddish brown plant without chlorophyll
  • Unbranched stem with scale-like leaves crowded near base of stem
  • Old stalks with spherical capsules persist
  • Nodding, pale yellow to pink flowers with downward-curving stalks
  • Flowers shaped like an upside-down urn

Family Characteristics: 

  • Simple, alternate evergreen leaves and woody stems
  • Flowers with 4–5 petals in an urn, bell, or tube shape
  • Stamens, usually twice as many as petals, do not attach to the corolla
  • Capsules, or berries, are usually partitioned into 5 divisions
  • Found in acidic habitats and often in association with mycorrhizal fungi
  • Some family members lack chlorophyll
  • Family members include blueberries, cranberries and huckleberries (Vaccinium spp.)and rhododendron (Rhododendron spp.)

Growth habitat: 

Perennial lacking chlorophyll, 0.25–1.2 m tall.

Leaves and stems: 

Prominent, purplish to reddish-brown, unbranched stem covered with sticky glandular hairs.  Emerges from the duff looking like fleshy, reddish-yellow asparagus shoots.  Brown leaves, found only near the base of the stem, are inconspicuous and reduced to narrow scales that sheath the stem.  Stems turn fibrous and dark brown after flowering and persist until the following year when new stalks shoot up alongside them.

Flowers: 

Long, slender, clusters, up to 50 cm long, of nodding, pale yellow to amber or pink flowers, each 0.5–1 cm long, that attach by downward-curving stalks.  Flowers have 5 fused petals and are shaped like an upside-down urn.

Roots: 

Ball-like root mass.

Seeds: 

Spherical capsules, up to 1.2 cm across, with many tiny, winged seeds.  Capsules are shaped like small pumpkins, attached by downward curving stalks and conspicuous on old stalks.

Habitat preferences: 

Rich soils in shaded coniferous forest of low- to mid-elevations.  Often found under ponderosa pines (Pinus ponderosa) and Douglas firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii).

Interesting facts: 

The common name is due to the resemblance of flowers to the drops of resin from pine trees.  Falsely believed to be a saprophyte that consumes decaying matter, these plants obtain carbohydrates from living fungi.  The fungi are mycorrhizal; existing in a symbiotic relationship with other plants (often trees) that provide carbohydrates through photosynthesis in exchange for the fungi’s absorption of water, phosphorous, and nitrogen.  Pinedrops derive all the benefits of this symbiosis by using the carbohydrates that are transferred by the fungus from the trees.  In return, it may stimulate the growth of both the fungi and its associated plants.

Biological Classification: