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 on the south coast of the Algarve

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.

Cynomorium coccineum - Maltese Fungus growing on the Algarve Coast, Portugal

Maltese Fungus 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. This striking plant once occurred in several locations on the coast of the Algarve, but it has suffered a dramatic reduction through loss of habitat to tourism development and is now restricted to just a few precarious sea cliff locations along the south coast; its continued existence in the region is precarious.

The photographs shown on this page were taken in the Algarve, southern Portugal.

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