Bear corn/ American Broomrape
Squawcorn/ Squawroot or Cancer root as it is known is a parasitic plant found in oak forests. Like other parasitic plants, it does not make chlorophyll, and thus looks white to yellowish brown. It has been described as looking similar to a dried pine cone. Sqauwroot can be found from late spring through early summer.
All of the broomrapes have at some time been used for a variety of medicinal purposes. Native Americans generally used them internally (as a decoction) for the treatment of respiratory and bowel problems and externally as a topical agent for treating skin infections. There is also evidence of the use of broomrapes in the same general manner in Europe; the plants are noted for their astringent properties. Physicians in this country adopted these practices in the pre-pharmaceutical era of natural medicines to arrest bowel and uterine bleeding and as a poultice to treat wounds and other skin problems. It is in this latter application that the name Cancer-root likely arose – as a treatment for sarcomatous, cutaneous lesions.
In addition to Squawroot, there are two other broomrapes that inhabit the same range from southern Canada to the Gulf Coast along the eastern seaboard inland to the Mississippi River: Beech Drops (Epifagus virginiana) and One-Flowered Cancer Root (Orobanche uniflora). The former is parasitic only on beech trees (Fagus spp), the genus name literally means “on (epi) beech (fagus).” It looks much more like a germinating plant than Squawroot, the ramifying stalks seeming to reach upward to the light. Since there is no photosynthesis, the verisimilitude is to extend the flowers upward to provide more elevation for seed dispersal and not phototropism. The plant is initially yellowish-tan in color, changing to a more red-tinged magenta over time.
The One-Flowered Cancer Root is one of the most delicate of forest flora and seems an apparition; it is also known as ghost pipe and naked broomrape as a reflection of this association. What is noteworthy is that it has no leaves, the diaphanous stem emerging from the ground nakedly unadorned. The colors range from white to lavender with no association with a specific tree; they have a number of hosts.