SEARCH AND WILDFLOWER HOME PAGE     BROWN/GREEN FLOWERS     CONTACT US



Pterospora andromedea
Pterospora andromedea (Pinedrops)
Ericaceae (Heath Family)
formerly Monotropaceae (Pinesap Family)

Montane. Woodlands. Spring.
Above: Lower Calico Trail, August 10, 2016.
Left: East Fork of the San Juan River, June 25, 2007.

Having no chlorophyll, Pinedrops make their living as parasites on mycorrhizal fungi which in turn are parasitic on conifer roots.  The young Pinedrops shown in the photograph at left, are growing in a Ponderosa forest and have probably been showing above the forest floor for no more than a week.  They will continue their rapid growth and, depending on the moisture available, will attain a height of one to three feet.

The mature plant in the photograph at the top of the page is three feet tall. Actually there are two plants, one twining around the other in an embrace I had never seen before. 

Pterospora andromeda was discovered by Thomas Nuttall and he named and described it in his Genera of North American Plants (1818). "Pterospora" is Greek for "winged seeds". Nuttall chose the specific epithet, andromeda, because the plant's flower structure resembles the flower structure of the genus Andromeda. Click to read Nuttall's description of Pterospora andromeda. Nuttall indicates that he found the plant "in Upper Canada, near the Falls of Niagara".

The genus, Andromeda, was named by Linnaeus for a new species, Andromeda foliis alternis lanceolatis, which he discovered in Lapland in 1732. Linnaeus chose the name "Andromeda" because his new species reminded him of the Greek story of Andromeda chained to a rock. Click to read a brief article about A. polifolia, a similar species found in the United States, and click again to see Linnaeus' drawing. Linnaeus' described his 1732 discovery in his account of his arduous and ground-breaking botanical exploration of Lapland. That trip and the rest of Linnaeus' life is very nicely detailed in Gourlie's, The Prince of Botanists.

The meaning of the word "Andromeda" is disputed, but it is most likely from the Ancient Greek "Άνδρομέδη" meaning "mindful of her husband", from ανδρος (andros) "man" + medesthai (to be mindful of, think on).

Wikipedia indicates a slightly different etymology: Andromeda's name is the Latinized form of the Greek Aνδρομέδα (Androméda)...: "ruler of men"[1] from Aνήρ... (andrós) "man", and medon, "ruler". Footnote [1] says, however, "The traditional etymology of the name is, 'she who has bravery in her mind' ".

Given the Greek story of Perseus rescuing Andromeda from the rock to which she had been chained, his slaying of the monster which was ready to eat her, and Perseus and Andromeda's later marriage, I think "mindful of her husband" makes most sense.

A question from a correspondent, AMK, led me to other common names for Pinedrops: "Albany Pinedrops" and "Albany Beech Drops" (although the latter name is also applied to several other species of parasitic plants). These alternative common names arose because some of the earliest collections were from the Beech forests near Albany, New York. The plant was first collected in the Albany area in 1817 by famed botanist Edwin James.

Pterospora andromedea (Pinedrops)
Ericaceae (Heath Family)
formerly Monotropaceae (Pinesap Family)

Montane. Woodlands. Spring.
Near Chris Park Trail, July 12, 2007.

The plants at left are over two feet tall and probably will grow another eight inches.  Flowers at the bottom of the flower stalk open first. 

Pterospora andromedea

Pterospora andromedea (Pinedrops)
Ericaceae (Heath Family)
formerly Monotropaceae (Pinesap Family)

Montane. Woodlands. Spring.
Near Chris Park Trail, July 12, 2007 and Lower Calico Trail, August 26, 2011.

The inflorescence is heavily, conspicuously glandular hairy. Touch it and the stickiness will adhere to you  --  or you to it if you are a fly, as the one at lower left of the photograph below found out.

                                                Pterospora andromedea

Pterospora andromedea

Pterospora andromedea (Pinedrops)
Ericaceae (Heath Family)
formerly Monotropaceae (Pinesap Family)

 

Montane. Woodlands. Spring.
Vallecito Creek Trail, September 13, 2010 and Fish Creek Trail, May 16, 2007.

Pinedrops turn various shades of reds and yellows in the fall and then wither brown and remain a strange sight until crushed and dissolved by snow, or they may stand, as in the second photograph, into the next growing season.

Pterospora andromedea

Pterospora andromedea (Pinedrops)
Ericaceae (Heath Family)
formerly Monotropaceae (Pinesap Family)

Montane. Woodlands. Spring.
Fish Creek Trail, October 15, 2009.

 

Maroon Pinedrops capsules split open and spill a myriad of minute seeds, each with a wing about 5 times as large as the seed.  The buff-colored wings, not the seeds, are visible on my fingers.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Range map for Pterospora andromedea