Candystick (Allotropa virgata) is usually called a saprophyte. However, it technically is a mycotroph, an extremely host-specific species that feeds exclusively on the mycelium of the American matsutake mushroom (Tricholoma magnivelare). Candystick attaches to the mushroom mycelium and, in turn, the matsutake mushroom is a conifer parasite. Mushroom hunters often note the location of candystick plants and return in the fall to harvest the matsutakes.
The only species in its genus, candystick is also commonly called sugarstick, devil’s wand and barber’s pole. This native perennial is found in the rich humus of conifer forests from low to mid elevations. It grows in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho and Montana.
A member of the Heath Family (Ericaceae), candystick is a peduncle (stalk) arising from a brittle, underground rhizome. The leaves are narrowly lance shaped scales along the peduncle, more crowded near the peduncle base. The stalk is white with red stripes that resemble a candy cane.
The flowers are densely crowded on the top portion of the peduncle. Each flower has a leaf under it and has five sepals or petals. Some references call these structures sepals and state that the flower has no petals. Other references say candystick flowers have petals and no sepals. (Perhaps they should be called tepals, structures not clearly either a petal or sepal.) The urn-shaped flowers have ten dark red stamens and a five-chambered superior ovary with a short style and a disk-like stigma.
Candystick fruits are five-chambered, round capsules. The many small seeds fall out through slits in the sides of the dry, papery fruits.
The genus name comes from the Latin words “allos” meaning different or other and “tropos” meaning turn. The genus refers to the flowers which turn upward when young and downward as they age. Virgata, the species designation, is translated as “striped”.
These candystick plants were growing along the Old Growth Trail at Oregon Caves National Park.