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Epifagus virginiana (L.) W.P.C. Barton


KingdomPlantaePlants, but not fungi, lichens, or algae
SubkingdomTracheobiontaVascular plants—plants with a “circulatory system” for delivering water and nutrients
DivisionMagnoliophytaFlowering plants, also known as angiosperms
ClassMagnoliopsidaDicotyledons—plants with two initial seed leaves
SubclassAsteridaeA large class that encompasses asters
OrderLamialesAromatic herbs and shrubs, including lavender, lilac, olive, jasmine, ash, teak, snapdragon, sesame, psyllium, garden sage, mint, basil, and rosemary
FamilyOrobanchaceaeBroomrape family of parasitic plants
GenusEpifagus“Upon the beech,” since these plants are beech tree root parasites
Speciesvirginiana“From Virginia”

About plant names...

I was wondering what killed all the little plants that we were passing as we hiked up Beech Hill in New Hampshire. All the plants were about a foot high, dark red-brown, stripped of their leaves, perhaps by deer. No sense photographing them, I figured, since they would be impossible to identify without any leaves or flowers.

Shortly before we finished our hike I changed my mind. Can't hurt to try. So I took a few photos. It wasn't until I got home that I realized that these were perfectly healthy. They lacked leaves because they didn't need them, and they weren't green because they aren't photosynthetic. As for flowers, they were right there in front of my nose, but small and inconspicuous, a deep shade of red-purple similar to that of the stem. Beech drops are parasites, deriving their energy from the roots of the beech trees that were all around us, natives like the trees upon which they prey.

Identification: Plants are 6-20" (15-50 cm) high, reddish brown in color, but herbaceous, not woody. Stems are light brown with purple stripes, darkening with age. Leaves are vestigial and nearly invisible, often described as scales. Flowers are about ½" (1.3 cm) long, shaped like a tube, sometimes square-edged, appearing alternately along the stems, a mixture of deep red/purple and white or yellow. From a distance their color is brownish, blending with that of the stems, so the flowers are easily overlooked. They bloom from August to October.

Online References:

Illinois Wildflowers

The New England Wildflower Society’s GoBotany site

The University of Wisconsin's Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium

The Vanderbilt University Bioimages web site

The Connecticut Botanical Society's Connecticut wildflowers site

Plants for a Future, a resource and information centre for edible and otherwise useful plants

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center


Clemants, Steven; Gracie, Carol, Wildflowers in the Field and Forest, Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 262

Epifagus virginiana (beech-drops)

9/29/2013 · South Bubble Hike, Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine
≈ 6 × 7" (15 × 18 cm)

Epifagus virginiana (beech-drops)

9/18/2017 · Purgatory Falls, Mont Vernon, New Hamp­shire
≈ 3½ × 4½" (9.8 × 11 cm)

Epifagus virginiana (beech-drops)

9/7/2013 · Beech Hill, Dublin, New Hamp­shire
≈ 6 × 8" (14 × 20 cm)

Epifagus virginiana (beech-drops)

9/5/2020 · Hedgehog Mountain, Freeport, Maine
≈ 3½ × 5" (9.4 × 13 cm)

Leptamnium virginianum (L.) Raf.


Epifagus virginiana description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 19 Aug 2023.

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Epifagus virginiana (beech-drops)

9/18/2017 · Purgatory Falls, Mont Vernon, New Hamp­shire
≈ 4 × 6" (11 × 16 cm)

Epifagus virginiana (beech-drops)

9/7/2013 · Beech Hill, Dublin, New Hamp­shire
≈ 6 × 6" (14 × 16 cm)

Epifagus virginiana (beech-drops)

9/7/2013 · Beech Hill, Dublin, New Hamp­shire
≈ 7 × 10" (18 × 24 cm)

Epifagus virginiana (beech-drops)

The upward-facing cuplike structures are the fruits. · 9/18/2017 · Purgatory Falls, Mont Vernon, New Hamp­shire
≈ 4½ × 7" (12 × 17 cm)


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