I saw a few mushrooms as well, but these were pretty sparse.
|Podaxis sp. (aff. pistillaris)|
|immature Podaxis sp. near camp|
One of the most interesting finds was a parasitic flower, Cynomorium coccineum. The inflorescences look very much like mushrooms from afar, and when I first saw a cluster by the side of the road I asked the Zbyzsek to stop the car. I wasn't the first to think so-- the common English name is the "Maltese mushroom."
|Cynomorium coccineum in a dry river valley.|
The plants have a global distribution and are valued as a food resource and panacea across many different culture groups. For a better look at their peculiar history, read this article.
|These were found in nearly all shrubby desert areas we visited.|
The phylogeny of these plants is uncertain, largely because some of the genetic markers commonly used to analyze the the relationships between different taxa affiliate with conflicting lineages--one suggests Cynomorium is more closely related to the Saxifragales, while another suggests Sapinales. This may be because parasitic plants are so closely associated with their hosts they can undergo horizontal gene transfer (Barkman et al. 2007), though Cynomorium isn't known to currently associate with members of either lineage. Strange plants indeed.