The plant world is a strange place. Take the Broomrape I found yesterday; this astonishingly beautiful plant, Orobanche minor, is a parasite, in this case on clover roots. Broomrapes are not that rare in the UK but they are mostly found in the south of the country, flowering from June right through to September. A plant of poor open habitats, they don’t have any chlorophyll, hence the pale colouration, and the flowering stem is only there to set seed. Unlike orchids, which have a symbiotic relationship with their host mycorrhiza, broomrapes are a true parasite. They draw their nutrients from their host plant and can eventually be very problematic. In fact, as I write, the third International Symposium on Broomrape in Sunflower has just closed in Cordoba, Spain. The broomrape that parasitises sunflower, Orobanche cumin Wallr, has a significant effect on crop yields throughout Europe and Asia and much research is going on to find a resistant strain of sunflower. Elizabeth Luard gives a recipe for a gratin of mushrooms and young broomrape shoots that was eaten in Italy. (European Peasant Cookery p. 380). I haven’t found any equivalent use in the UK.
The broom rape I found was a solitary plant, thriving in a large meadow which is cut for hay and then grazed by sheep. This solitary plant may have an adverse effect on the clover plant it is parasitising but in the overall scheme of things it won’t effect the yield of this particular field much. Its beauty alone is worth the valiant sacrifice of the host.