Feed on

It was one of those year-end jaunts into the wilderness with like-minded friends. Destination – Coorg. After enjoying the forests and its denizens through most part of the morning, we reached a stream at the edge of a coffee estate. It was late afternoon when we ate our packed lunch and rested for a while. The trees were towering over us and forest was slowly beginning to get dark. One of us, while exploring the area around the stream, found something very peculiar under a large dead tree that had fallen to the ground.

All of us gathered around this strange subject but none of us were able to fathom what it was. It looked like a cluster of globular pinecones of various sizes, the largest about the size of a badminton ball. We were guessing – fungus, part of some plant – all distinct possibilities. However, we all took some pictures and left.

Balanophora cluster

Cluster of Balanophora inflorescences

Much later, when we enlarged the image, we realised that it could indeed be a plant ! Each of the globular structures was indeed an inflorescence ! In fact, what I missed when photographing was a bee sitting on the flower. However, there were no leaves as part of the plant that we could see. This was very intriguing and left us wondering. We forgot all about this plant in question on our return, albeit for a short while. The curiosity of a plant kept nagging me. Only when I learnt a little more about the subject did things fall into place.

Bee on the Balanophora flower.

It turned out to be a plant that is more fungus-like – a rare one at that – Balanophora fungosa!

Close-up of the flower.

Balanophora fungosa, like most others of the family, lack the green pigment – cholorophyll – that enables plants to photosynthesize. It is a parasitic flowering plant. Most of the time, it remains underground where the plant grows on the roots of trees with only the inflorescence showing above the ground. Several species of trees (over 25) play host to Balanophora fungosa.

Balanophora grows in moist areas and has a wide distribution. In India, it occurs in the southern states of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Goa; north-eastern India is also within its distribution range. There are reports of the plant from various parts of the world primarily the tropics.

We know very little of the biology of plant. All these make Balanophora a very unusual plant indeed.

  • Vikram

    I really would have passed it by assuming it’s some kind of fungus! Nice one, Karthik!

  • Sugandhi

    That’s very interesting, Sir :)

  • Aishwarya

    Awesome…This is why I should keep my eye on the ground… As always very informative

  • Deepa Mohan

    Hope to see this interesting “votzit” sometime…. but unless I have you to point it out, I am likely to pass it, not noticing the unique living organism….I wonder how many wonders like this I ignore!

    I remember showing my friends the Drosera, and their being wonderstruck…that was only because someone else had pointed out the carnivorous plant to me previously. So…thank you for spreading the information and the knowledge!

  • http://radha-rangarajan.blogspot.com/ Radha

    Very interesting Karthik!
    Thank you for sharing..

  • Sadhana Ramchander

    Fascinating, Karthik. I now have a new dream…to join you people on one of your trips. It will happen!

  • mbk

    nice account!

  • saurabh

    nice post…very informative

  • http://backpakker.blogspot.com lakshmi

    very fascinating read Karthik..i am learning new things and some wonderful photographs too

  • http://nichepartition.blogspot.in Meera

    Very nice article, Karthik. Wish I get to see this sometime, too.

  • Rohit

    Hi Karthik,

    As always, lovely images and a very information write up. Thanks a lot for sharing!

  • http://www.wildwanderer.com Karthik

    Thanks to all of you. This, like many of my previous posts, only shows how much there is for all of us to see and learn; also how there is no room for disappointment if one goes into the wilderness with an open mind.

  • Kannan

    Have you seen this plant in bangalore. Please you can post the place where you had seen. Actually this is very common in some places of Kerala. I never seen in Bangalore.

  • karthik

    Hello Kannan,
    Interesting to note that it is common in some parts of Kerala. I have not seen this in Bangalore.
    Best wishes,

  • http://adventureanytime.blogspot.com Santosh

    There is so much to see and so much to learn and our eyes are hardly on the ground when on field…need to change this soon :) I think we need to have the NTP2 soon!

  • Arijit Banerjee

    Man that is such a lovely bit of Info!!! Saw images of this plant after 20 odd years!!!

  • http://www.daktre.com Prashanth

    Hi Karthik,

    Wonderful post. Coincidentally, I ran into one such cluster under a rock along a shola stream behind Bedaguli in BR Hills recently. I looked at it for long and was cursing myself for not having brought my camera on this particular day. It was very similar to this, but I think what I saw was a different spp. I was completely confused as to what it is. Initially, I thought (like you suggest), it was some sort of a conifer cone. When I tried to pick it up, I found it it was strongly attached to the substrate below. I left thinking it is some sort of a fungus. Thanks for the illuminating post.

  • http://FeildBotany Promila Chaturvedi

    Nice picture and equally good description of the plant.

  • http://shivanidiwani64.blogspot.com/ shivani

    Not only does this feel satisfying…sharing your eureka along with you but also this is quite an education.
    Seeing sure is an art.
    Thanks for sharing but could you also oblige me on yet another query.
    Since this is a parasitic plant is it possible that it can kill the tree on which it feeds?

  • JN Prasad

    Hi Karthik, nice note and pictures. thanks for educating us. So much more we are missing out.

  • Uma

    Yet another informative gem! So interesting and fascinating! Thank you for continuing to educate us, Karthik!

  • EmJay

    Well, it’s not that rare here in Far North Queensland, Australia, but believed to be so in Taiwan…