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Weird and Wonderful Wednesdays: The Snowflower


 Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC BY-SA 3.0

A plant that needs fungi to live -- meet the remarkable snowflower!

This plant, technically known as Sarcodes Sanguinea (the only member of the Sarcodes family), cannot photosynthesise food from light like most plants, as it does not have any green leaves. This means that the Snowflower needs to come up with some other way of finding essential nutrients.

So what does it do? It steal them from fungi!

The Snowflower only grows at the base of trees, where mycorhhizal fungi grow. It takes the water and nutrients which it needs from these tiny fungi. However it isn't all bad news for the little guys: in order to help keep the fungi which it depends upon alive, the Snowflower offers them a source of fixed carbon in exchange. 

It may not be mother nature's most beautiful floral creation, but the Snowflower is a remarkable story of co-evolution. The steady stream of nutrients which it takes from fungi even allow it to grow in the coldest mountain springs, when snow still coats the hills of its native Oregon and California.

Hence the name, of course: Snowflower.

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