Phylum: Magnoliophyta - Class: Equisetopsida - Order: insertae sedis - Family: Cynomoriaceae
Cynomorium coccineum, often referred to as the ‘Maltese fungus’, is a rare and poorly understood parasitic flowering plant.
The plant is very distinctive and has a blackish-red infloresence which bursts up through the earth from an extensive underground rhizome system. Cynomorium coccineum has no green pigment and is unable to synthesise (make from sunlight) its own food. It steals its nutrients from the roots of other plants.
It occurs in salt marshes and on sea cliffs where it parasitises shrubs in the Amaranthaceae family of plants which have adapted to grow in the harsh, salt-laden habitats of the coast.
Maltese Fungus once occurred in several locations on the coast of the Algarve, but has suffered a dramatic reduction through loss of habitat to tourism development. It is now restricted to just a few precarious sea cliffs along the south coast, and its continued existence in the region is precarious.
The photograph on this page was taken in the Algarve, in Portugal.
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