So Balfour and McDowell are hiking in the woods and Balfour says ‘Wanna see something completely different?’ “Uhhh, duh, yeah…” says McDowell the Articulate. We finish the hike we’re on, jump up the B&K for another kilometre and head back into the woods. “Remember this trail?” asks Balfour before she recollects that McDowell has no forest trail sense. The dogs are loving it – two walks for the price of one. And then Balfour stops and says “Look”.

And boom! McDowell may not remember trails but she does remember mushrooms, fungi and plants and this is something completely different. And so cool!

We’ve been traipsing these forests since 1997 looking for fun stuff and this is the first time we’ve seen Allotropa virgata. It’s a plant but what is it? Looks like it’s in the pipe family. No green so they must be getting their nutrients from the surrounding environment.

The experts say that this plant feeds through a fungal relationship exclusively with matsutake mycelium. We don’t remember seeing any matsutake around this area but we’ll sure be looking this year! The A.virgata is a mycotrophic plant, part of a threesome –  it gets its carbon, water, nutrient supply through a symbiotic relationship with fungi who’s having a symbiotic relationship with trees.

When McDowell rocks the trails with Balfour, the world is opened to wonderful, unique and mysterious fungi and plants. What’s that saying – the world is full of magical things waiting for our senses to grow sharper. And with every venture into the forest our world expands.

We hope you come across Allotropa virgata someday in your ventures because it is a treat to see.

McDowell didn’t take any photos that give a sense of scale so here’s one with terrier Addie Fern, who hates the paparazzi and refused to smile for the camera.


About the Allotropa virgata

Allotropa virgata is found in the oak, coniferous and hardwood forests of the Pacific Northwest. It grows in the High Sierra Nevada, High Cascade Range and up through British Columbia.

Allotropa virgata is in the family Ericaceae and is the only species of the genus Allotropa. It is a perennial plant that gets its common names from the distinct white and red or maroon stripes along its erect peduncle. A. virgata are nongreen as they lack chlorophyll, instead obtaining nutrition from neighboring green plants through a fungal intermediate. Allotropa virgata feeds exclusively on Matsutake mushroom (Tricholoma matsutake) mycelium.

Allotropa virgata has an underground stem (rhizome) with brittle roots. The scale-like leaves are along the striped peduncle with a raceme-like inflorescence.The corolla has 5 white petals in a cup shape, all petals are free and concave.

More information: Allotropa virgata: Wikipedia