I wanted to find a California ground cone (Kopsiopsis strobilacea) but had no success until late July 2018 when I discovered a group of them along the Old Growth Trail at Oregon Caves National Monument. The plants were already in seed. I took pictures of the seeds and resolved to return a little earlier in the season the following year. My 2019 visit to Oregon Caves occurred three weeks earlier in mid-June. There were the California ground cone plants, yet once again the flowers were not in their prime. Covid19 cancelled a 2020 search. Finally last week at the end of May, three years later, I was able to photograph this holoparasite (fully dependent on host) in full bloom.
A California ground cone resembles a dark, reddish-brown or purple pine cone standing erect on the ground. Unless one is looking for this native perennial it is easy to miss among the leaf litter. They can be found from Southern Oregon to Southern California (sea level to 6,000 feet) in forests or brush associated with manzanita shrubs (Arctostaphylos) and Pacific madrones (Arbutus menziesii), its hosts.
California ground cone leaves are alternate, simple, scale-like bracts. The flowers occur in the axils of the bracts. The pale-margined purple flowers have five petals united to form a tube which is bent in the middle. Bilaterally symmetrical, the upper lip of the flower is cupped while the lower lip has three lobes enclosing four stamens and the ovary. The fruit is a single-chambered capsule containing many seeds.
California ground cones flower each season and cause large knobs to form on the roots of their manzanita and madrone hosts, but there is no evidence of harm to the host. California ground cones obtain water and nutrients by penetrating the host’s roots with haustoria, root-like structures growing in or around another structure. California ground cone seeds are able to germinate independently of a host and form haustorial hairs that must then find and penetrate a host’s root system if they are to survive.
A member of the Broomrape Family (Orobanchaceae), a synonym for K strobilacea is Boschniakia strobliacea. The genus name honors a Dutch agronomist and botany professor, Jan Kops (1765 – 1849). The species designation means “cone-like”.
My next quest is to find Kopsiopsis hookerii, also known as small ground cone. It is a smaller, white to cream colored ground cone. With luck it will take less than three years.