Not a Fungus

Although it certainly resembles a fungus and is sometimes referred to as ‘fungus root’ this  flowering plant belongs in the family Balanophoraceae and is found in Queensland’s moist rainforests.

Balanophora fungosa
Not frequently observed as they are often partially covered by leaf litter on the rainforest floor, this unusual plant is a leafless root parasite needing no chlorophyll.  Leaves have been replaced by scales and each plant consists of a single stem about 8 cm high.  Male and female flowers are produced separately on the plant.  The male flowers encircle the stem below the club shaped organ which is covered in tiny female flowers.

Balanophora fungosa detail

The tiny fruit are numerous and cover the club-shaped receptacle.  Once the plant has fruited it collapses, much as fungi do.  In the last photo you can see  new stems emerging from their underground tuber while the collapsed fruiting body appears as a dark brown mass which merges into the rainforest floor and could be easily overlooked.

Balanophora fruit collapsed

References:  “Fruits of the Australian Tropical Rainforest” W&WT Cooper; “Native Plants Queensland” Keith A.W.Williams; “Amongst Trees” R.Russell et al.

One response to “Not a Fungus

  1. Fascinating plant, Barbara – thanks for posting.
    I have seen a similar tiny leafless saprophyte, a Thismia.
    Also was mistaken for a fungus when first found.
    Amazing stuff out there in Nature.

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