Out There: A peek into a unique plant’s life

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One-flowered broom rape is one of many May flowers.

The flowers of May are fast appearing. They are all very fascinating and in their own right hold unsurpassed beauty in appearance and in the intricate role they fill in their neighbourhood.

One May flower seems to diverge from the “path” taken by most spring flowers. That is the one-flowered broomrape, also known as orobanche. You may have met this interesting plant personality, a one-of-a-kind, you may agree; however, if you haven’t, it will soon appear in open rocky areas on the Balancing Rock and Lady’s Slipper trails, and in other favourable niches.

I like Ellen Burt’s descriptive account of part of the broomrape’s life. Let’s take a look through this little window. Here is what she says:

“Overnight, orobanche appears from rain-soaked grass, a three-centimetre-high, indigo Thumbelina, stem and flower translucent as if fallen from the sky, mouth waiting open while drops of water coalesce on lips. On morrow as May heat returns, this delicate debutante gone, no trace, no leave have grown and withered, no added bloom bounds on the hillside, no sign of Orobanche uiflora, choking vetch, parasitic on a broom.

“Uniflora, that single bloom, slips away, leaving only a word, ‘orobanche,’ that echoes like a chant, a puzzle, ‘orobanche,’ meaning choking vetch, broomrape, parasitic on roots of sedum.

“Surely sedum, stone-crop, that clinging summer succulent think with leather leaves designed for toughness, scratchy-looking yellow when grass turns brown, can afford to lend a little to the delicate uniflora. I would not call that rape or even a shame.

“Orobanche, a song that asks to give just a little water, a tear, a peek to a lady terrified to hear her own name, Orobanche uniflora, naked broomrape, parasitic on sedum.”

My appearance in this column will be the last regular one till fall. Until then, I hope to step up my involvement in some summer projects, including some exploring. In the meantime, perhaps we will meet out there or meet over some amazing new wild personality you have met.

Ed McMackin is a biologist by profession but a naturalist and hiker by nature. He can be reached at 250-866-5747.