Common Name: Squawroot
(The information for this species page was gathered in part by Ms. Carol McKenzie for Biology 220W during Spring 2009 at Penn State New Kensington)
Squawroot (Conopholis americana) (also called “cancer root” or “bear cone”) is a low growing, brown, scaly plant that reaches heights of one foot at maturity. It is found often in dense clusters in oak and beech forests throughout eastern North America. The plants most closely resemble brown, scaly pine cones protruding up out of the ground. Image credit: Deborah Sillman.
Squawroot is a non-photosynthetic plant that relies on a parasitic connection to the roots of host trees (most species of oak and also beech) for its nourishment. It is a perennial that lives up to ten years. Most of the plants biomass is found underground. The cone-like structures that we see are its small, specialized, flowering stems.
Squawroot is more common in older forests, and its presence and relative abundance in a site may be significant indicators of forest age and stability. In areas where oak forests are being replaced by secondary forests that are dominated by maples or other non-oak tree species, squawroot is an increasingly uncommon and possibly threatened plant.
It is not clear in the literature if squawroot seriously compromises the health of its host tree. It is likely that it, by itself, may exist in a very stable parasite host symbiosis with its much larger and longer lived host oak or beech tree. But, if other stresses combine with squawroot’s presence, the health and vitality of the host tree may be reduced.
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This page was last updated on
July 21, 2014