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Nature Notebook – Squaw Root

We spied some crazy-looking growths on our Grand Mere dune hike. They looked like a cross between a fungus and a pinecone.

The squaw root is similar to a fungus in that it cannot produce its own food so it parasitizes the roots of oak trees. After the plant has grown underground for four years it develops a short stem covered with scale-like flowers. The seeds that are produced after flies and bumblebees pollinate the flowers are dispersed by the deer who eat them.

Although it is a parasite, it doesn’t seem that squaw root harms the oak. Biologists consider its presence an indicator of stability because it is more commonly found in older forests. What a perfect representative of a stabilized dune forest!