This is a parasitic plant that obtains all of its nutrients from fungi associated with its roots (usually of pines and oaks). Therefore, it doesn’t need green leaves for photosynthesis.
The plant has two color morphs: if it is flowering in late spring or summer, the flowers tend to be yellow. Fall flowering plants tend to be reddish in color.
So, the super interesting parasitic information from Wildflowers and Plant Communities of the Southern Appalachian Mountains and Piedmont: The interaction between pinesap and tree roots was demonstrated nearly 50 years ago when labeled glucose injected into the phloem of spruce trees was subsequently found in nearby individuals of pinesap. Subsequent studies demonstrated that specialized mycorrhizal fungi function as a “bridge” moving glucose from spruce roots to pinesap. Since the movement of nutrients is unidirectional, pinesap is a parasite.
Because it obtains nutrients indirectly from a neighboring photosynthetic plant through a shared root fungus, pinesap is technically known as an epiparasite.
Size: 4-10" tall Family: Ericaceae (Heath Family) Habitat: Moist to dry woods, prefers acidic soil. Likes oak and acidic cove forests. Identification: A small plant popping up from the leaves, with clusters of yellow, pink or red stems. The very small leaves lack chlorophyll. At the end of the stem there is a yellow-ish red urn that nods to one side. Flowers May-October, fruits July-November.