Why don't animals have chlorophyll?

Spruce asparagus: a plant without leafy green

Perhaps you have already discovered it during a walk in the forest: the spruce asparagus (Monotropa hypopitys). The spruce asparagus is usually a completely white plant and therefore a rarity in our native nature. The small leafless plant belongs to the heather family (Ericaceae) and has no chlorophyll at all. This means that it cannot photosynthesize. Nevertheless, this little survivor manages to survive without any problems.

Spruce asparagus - a clever forest dweller

At first glance, the scaly leaves as well as the soft plant stem and the fleshy growing inflorescences are more reminiscent of a mushroom than a plant. In contrast to the green plants, the spruce asparagus cannot provide for its own nutrition and therefore has to be a little more inventive. As an epiparasite, it gets its nutrients from the surrounding mycorrhizal fungi from other plants. It makes use of the hyphae of mycorrhizal fungi in its root area by simply "tapping" the fungal network. However, this arrangement is not based on give and take, as is the case with the mycorrhizal fungi, but only on the latter.

Appearance, growth and habitat

The spruce asparagus grows to between 15 and 30 centimeters. Instead of leaves, there are broad, leaf-like scales on the plant stem. The grape-like flowers are about 15 millimeters long and consist of almost ten sepals and petals and about eight stamens. Usually the nectar-rich flowers are pollinated by insects. The fruit consists of a hairy upright capsule that causes the inflorescence to stand upright as it ripens. The color spectrum of the spruce asparagus extends from completely white to pale yellow to pink.

The spruce asparagus prefers shady pine or spruce forests and fresh or dry soil. Because of its special diet, it is also possible for it to thrive in locations with very little light. But wind and weather do not affect the graceful plant much either. It is therefore no surprise that the spruce asparagus has spread throughout the northern hemisphere. In Europe, its occurrence extends from the Mediterranean area to the edge of the Arctic Circle, even if it occurs only sporadically there. In addition to the species Monotropa hypopitys, the genus of spruce asparagus includes two other species: Monotropa uniflora and Monotropa hypophegea. However, these are particularly common in North America and northern Russia.