Northern Groundcone (Boschniakia rossica)
We found this odd non-green plant in a couple locations in flood-prone Cottonwood-Alder forests outside of Skagway, Alaska. Once we could pick them out of the landscape, they appeared to be everywhere (as in the photo below). The 2-lipped brown flowers look like pine cone scales, giving it its common name. Grizzly bears are said to often gorge on the thick stalks. There are a million seeds in just three “cones”.
This middle elevation northern species, found only in northern BC and Alaska, is parasitic on alders, birch, willow, huckleberry , spruce and leatherleaf. The similar looking Vancouver Groundcone found further south in Washington and Vancouver, BC at lower elevations, is parasitic on salal and huckleberry, and was used as a good luck charm by native tribes in BC. We’ve also seen the California Groundcone.