Gnome Plant

Gnome Plant, Vancouver Island, BC
Gnome Plant, Vancouver Island, BC, Photo By Robert Logan

There are only one species in the genus that grows in the pacific northwest, it’s the Gnome Plant, and it can be seen from southwestern British Columbia, Vancouver Island, down as far as California. They are very rare and if you do see one of these tiny little jewels, then you are indeed a lucky one.

The Gnome plant is a monotypic genus of plant that contains the single species Hemitomes congestum, which is known as the gnome plant or cone plant. This rare and unusual plant is native to the west coast of North America and likes to grow only in old-growth forests. This small perennial plant will form lumps in the leaf litter, most are hidden from view this way. It can be white, yellowish, or reddish-pink like in the photos.

It grows from a rhizome with fragile roots and its form is covered in sparse scales. The flowers have ragged yellowish or pinkish petals and contain hairs and large rounded yellow stigmas. The fruit is a white berry.

We know very little about the life cycle of this plant due to its rarity, but it probably obtains its nutrients by parasitizing a fungus associated with old-growth forest trees. Hemitomes congestum lacks the means to produce chlorophyll, so it taps into an existing tree fungal root association and extracts sugars from the fungus via the tree. The fungi that it seems to associate with is the bleeding tooth fungus, so if you are walking in the woods on western Vancouver Island and see this fungus, take a look around, you might just find a Gnome plant.

Gnome Plant, Vancouver Island, BC
Gnome Plant, Vancouver Island, BC, Photo By Robert Logan

Hemitomes congestum can reach a height of 10 cm but is usually much smaller, about 2 cm in height. The fruit can have a strong musky or cheesy odor that may attract small mammals and insects, although this is just speculation on my part.

Hemitomes congestum flowers from early to mid-summer. It is found in mature coniferous forests from sea level right up to 2,700 meters.

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