Friday 21 October 2016

Gnome Plant

Image: Tab Tannery
Hemitomes congestum
Gnomes are well-known for their love of mushrooms. They sit on them, play fiddle on them, fish in the lawn from them. And judging from those hippy beards and the fact they so often try to catch fish in the lawn, they probably eat some carefully selected ones, too.

So you know their special plant is going to be odd.

Image: Damon Tighe
The Gnome Plant, also known as the Cone Plant, is a strange and elusive plant found only on the west coast of North America. Not right on the coast. I mean, look at them! Can you imagine them on the beach? I don't think they make sun lotion strong enough to stop them from burning to a crisp.

Then again, they haven't exactly swept across the Americas either. They're found only in coastal states and territories, namely British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California. And, while they can be found as much as 2,700 metres (8,860 ft) up mountains, what they really like is dense, damp, dark forest. So, no fans of the sun, then.

Image: mayumifm
Even if you manage to come across one in flower, they're not hard to overlook. They only grow a few centimetres (an inch or two) above the surrounding leaf litter. If you're staring up at all those mighty trees you might walk right past them. If, on the other hand, you're searching for mushrooms or gnomes you might spot a cluster of tiny flowers, pinkish white to rosy pink.

The name Hemitomes means 'half eunuch'. I don't know what that says about gnomes, but in Gnome Plants apparently one of the anthers contains no pollen. Clearly this was super important so now the Gnome Plant is the one and only species in the half-eunuch genus.

Image: nrg_crisis
Now, I know what you're thinking. "Of course those half-eunuch gnomes are going to be congestum, the other one's gonna have to take up all the slack." Possibly, but it really refers to all those 'crowded' flowers. As they emerge from the ground, before they fully open, they look just like the spooky ghost of a pine cone.

Gnome Plant flowers are tiny, but they're packed full of nectar at the bottom, sticky pollen at the top and hairy petals covering the whole thing.

Image: Allyn G. Smith
Gnome Plants are rare and difficult to find so there's a lot unknown about them. It seems clear they must be one of those parasitic plants. Their leaves are mere scales on the stem and they're void of chlorophyll, so no doubt the Gnome Plant robs all its nutrients from nearby trees. Or, like many other parasitic plants, from the fungi that live in symbiosis with nearby trees. Either way, these Gnome Plants are definitely part of the criminal underbelly of the forest.

No-one knows for sure who the pollinator is, but it could be a moth. The hairy petals probably stop little insects from crawling down and stealing all the nectar (yeah, NOW the Gnome Plant is opposed to burglary. Tsh. Typical). The petals wouldn't stop the long, thin proboscis of a moth, though, and that's probably the point.

Image: outdoorPDK
No-one knows who spreads the seeds, either. However, the white, fleshy fruits apparently smell of cheese! Perhaps they attract little mammals who eat them and spread the seeds in their dung? No-one knows which little mammal this might be, though. Perhaps they're gnomes?


  1. Fascinating plants... They remind me of another pink, leafless flower I've seen sprouting out of the ground, also in Washington state, but this one had more traditionally shaped flowers. Just by looking online they seem similar to Amaryllis belladonna, except much smaller and in a much cooler, wetter climate than A. belladonna is common in. I suspect it's a parasite (and not just hiding its leaves like A. belladonna), but I don't know what kind of plant it is.

  2. @TexWisGirl: Yeah, a whole scrum of shrimp!

    @Akavakaku: Interesting! Could it be one of the other monotropes? There are a few that look a little like that. I'm actually surprised how many kinds of parasitic plants there are out there!

  3. I have pics of these found locally

  4. Cool that you got to spot some nearby!

  5. Found some of these today with ants crawling around inside amongst the tiny hairs seemingly after the nectar. Perhaps they could be the pollinators/seed spreaders? ��

  6. Sounds like you're describing pinesap, another parasitic plant that grows in densely shaded forest.

  7. I found some in the woods today in oregon.
    Is there a market to sale tgem or any one interested in them??
    If so email me.

  8. Just found several on my hike today in Washington. Had to look them up to see what they were!

  9. I live in the south of France and have them growing in my garden. First time I have seen them

  10. They’re mycotrophic not parasitic as they feed through the mycelium thread network in the ground