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Desert Diary
Plants/Cooper's Broomrape


Everyone knows that plants are green. We also know that what everyone knows is not necessarily true, and the truth is that some plants are not green. But how do they manage to live if they don't have the green chlorophyll used by plants to manufacture food? Simple enough—like so many organisms spread through the five kingdoms of life, they've become parasites, living off the endeavors of others. Now, before we become too self-righteous, keep in mind that most parasites don't kill their hosts, but we often destroy other organisms for food.

Cooper's Broomrape is a Chihuahuan Desert example of a parasitic plant. The plant appears above ground only during the reproductive phase, otherwise lurking comfortably attached to its plant host. Roots of various plants, especially from the sunflower family, are infected. In our area, Skeleton-leaf Goldeneye is a favorite. Other species, such as Mexican Cancer-root, occur in regional mountains, parasitic on pinyons, junipers, and oaks. Think you know everything? These plants exist as happy reminders that just maybe there are a few things left to learn.
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.



Correll, D. S., and M. C. Johnston. 1970. Manual of the vascular plants of Texas. Texas Research Foundation, Renner, TX.

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Overview Photograph