In the fall, as acorns rain down on our heads and mushrooms abound, another rather strange plant pops up: the beech drop.
This year, they are ubiquitous. Beech drops aren’t splashy and colorful so they tend to blend into the background, but once you know what to look for you’ll see them in large numbers in Rock Creek Park.
Beech drops don’t get their sustenance from chlorophyll. They are parasites that develop a structure called a haustorium that grows into the beech roots to siphon off nutrients. And they are harmless to their hosts. The presence of beech drops is an indicator of forest health.
For pollination, beech drops rely on a specific species of ant – prenoleppis imparis, or winter ant. They attract other pollinators as well. I once saw a small bumblebee hopping from flower to flower – and not just any flower. The bee was going from top to top. The top flowers on these plants are cross-pollinating. The lower flowers are self-pollinating.
And they aren’t just in the park. Where there are beech trees, there are beech drops.
This is a rerun with some updates. Here’s the original from October 2018.