Cynomorium coccineum Maltese Fungus

Phylum: Magnoliophyta - Class: Equisetopsida - Order: insertae sedis - Family: Cynomoriaceae

Cynomorium coccineum - Maltese Fungus growing on the Algarve Coast

Above: Maltese Fungus grows on the south coast of the Algarve. Photograph by kind permission of Chris Thorogood - Field Guide to the Wildflowers of the Algarve, by Chris Thorogood and Simon Hiscock (Kew Publishing 2014) ISBN 978 1 84246 497 7, available via www.kewbooks.com

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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