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In science, beauty. In beauty, science. Daily.

Cynomorium coccineum

Cynomorium coccineum

Today's photograph and write-up are courtesy of UBC Botanical Garden horticulturist Jackie Chambers:

I first saw this fantastically phallic crimson plant while working in southern Spain. Often found in salty areas, Cynomorium coccineum has a native distribution across the Mediterranean (including parts of northern Africa) and Saudi Arabia. This plant does not have any leaves; in fact it doesn’t produce any chlorophyll at all. Instead, it derives energy by parasitizing the roots of other salt-tolerant (halophytic) plants.

Cynomorium coccineum spends most of its life underground as a rhizome. The thick, fleshy stems emerge from the soil after the winter rain, and can reach 15-30 cm. The stems can range in colour from dark red to almost black. Tiny scarlet flowers are so densely packed along the stems that it is almost impossible to see individual flowers. Instead, they give the whole stem a fuzzy texture. The Parasitic Plant Connection has a wonderful selection of photographs: Cynomoriaceae.

These stems are supposed to be delicious when eaten fresh (the flavor is often compared to apples). However, they are more prized for their medicinal qualities. Given the plant’s colour and shape, it is clear why it has been traditionally used to treat blood diseases and sexual problems. Bedouins call it ‘Tarthuth’, and refer to it as ‘the treasure box of medicines’ due to its many uses. For details on how Cynomorium has been used historically, visit Cynomorium: Parasitic Plant Widely Used in Traditional Medicine.

Daniel adds: The species seems to only be commonly known as cynomorium (in English). It is one of two species in the genus Cynomorium, the sole genus within the Cynomoriaceae.

16 Comments

WOW! Between that incredibly unusual plant and
the "fantastically phallic" comment,
i almost shot coffee all over
my keyboard via my nose!

The botanical world is full of oddities. Thanx for presenting this one!! Fantastic!!

The Asian counterpart to this plant, Cymomorium songaricum which is native to the desert zones of Western China and parasitizes the roots of Nitrarias, is being actively studied by researchers at the Inner Mongolian University for it's potential anti-aging properties.

Top photo and description. Thanks Jackie.

What a fascinating plant! I enjoyed the link to the Parasitic Plant Connection.

Very interesting. But, I miss Beverley's phoentic pronunciation of both ‘Tarthuth’ and Cynomorium.

Knox - I am sorry but my limited reference sources do not cover your request!

Cynomorium: 'Kine-o-morium'.

Sorry, don't know about Bedouin pronunciation of Tarthuth.

Tarthuth: Tar-tooth with all soft t's

Outstanding photograph of a plant that would make a good bit of background for a science fiction movie.

Thanks for sharing this photograph.

Although it's different from mushrooms, it's shape reminds me of morel mushrooms.

From what you shared, I'd guess that it might be very hard to transplant. Anyone know?

But if it needs a host plant to live on, does that mean it has to germinate on a host plant? Or can it grow, and then afterward attach to a host?

Fascinating and beautiful. Two of my interests come together - sand dune flora and parasitic plants. Thanks so much, I'd not come across this amazing red spike before.

So does the name mean "dog mulberry" (cyno=dog, morium like Morus, mulberry)?

It is very uncommon plant having halophytic, parasitic, medicinal property.THANK you for your write up

We have about 100 hectars with cynomorium coccineum in central Spain, a rarity, at the side of a medieval castle, which history is connected to Malta's Fungi (Gonzo). I have even tried the cyno and hope to be able to finish the book I started writing about this amazing plant years ago.

It grows on Malta as well, htey call it General's Root
Check this out:
http://www.maltawildplants.com/CYNM/Cynomorium_coccineum.php

Snip:
"The vernicular name 'Maltese Fungus' is a misnomer both because the species is a plant (not a fungus) and also as it gives the impression that it is a species endemic to Malta, but actually it is distributed in several Mediterranean countries as well in Asia.

The plant has been proteceted from public collection for very long time ago. Historical records mentions that in the 17th century, only high members of the Order of St. John could collect and make use of the medicinal virtues of the plant, while public caught in possession of the plant would have been sent in prison."

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