Balanophora fungosa

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Balanophora fungosa
B. fungosa growing in rainforest near Kuranda in Far North Queensland.
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Order: Santalales
Family: Balanophoraceae
Genus: Balanophora
B. fungosa
Binomial name
Balanophora fungosa

Balanophora fungosa, sometimes known as fungus root is a flowering plant in the family Balanophoraceae and occurs in South Asia, Southeast Asia, Australia and some Pacific Islands. It is an obligate parasite growing on the roots of rainforest trees. The flowering structure is shaped like a puffball but in fact consists of a globe covered with thousands of tiny female flowers. The globe is surrounded at its base by a much smaller number of male flowers. In flower, the plant emits an odour resembling that of mice.[2][3]


Like other members of its genus, B. fungosa is holoparasitic and contains no chlorophyll.[2] The aerial parts of the plant consist of a hard, irregularly shaped tuber from which the flower-bearing structures extend.[4] The leaves are scale-like, pale cream in colour, 8–30 millimetres (0.3–1 in) long, 7–20 millimetres (0.3–0.8 in) wide and more or less stem clasping.[3][5]

The plant is monoecious or dioecious. When monoecious, it bears both pistillate (female) and staminate (male) flowers. Thousands of minute female flowers cover a globe-shaped structure 15–20 millimetres (0.6–0.8 in) in diameter. The styles are less than 1 millimetre (0.04 in) long. About 20 male flowers are arranged around the base of the globe, each about 3–5 millimetres (0.1–0.2 in) in diameter with a pedicel about 5–6 millimetres (0.20–0.24 in) long and are covered with powdery white pollen.[3][5]

Taxonomy and naming[edit]

Balanophora fungosa was described by Johann Reinhold Forster and Georg Forster in 1774 and the description was published in Characteres Generum Plantarum.[6][7] The species epithet fungosa is the adjectival form of the Latin word fungosus meaning "fungus-like", which refers to the plant's superficial resemblance to a mushroom.[8]

The names of two subspecies are accepted by the Australian Plant Census:

  • Balanophora fungosa J.R.Forst. & G.Forst. subsp. fungosa;[9]
  • Balanophora fungosa subsp. indica (Arn.) B.Hansen.[10]

Balanophora fungosa subsp. fungosa is monoecious, while subspecies indica is dioecious.[11]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Balanophora fungosa is found in coastal forests from near sea level to 900 metres (3,000 ft) in Australia, Taiwan, Indonesia, Ryukyu Islands, New Guinea, the Philippines, some Pacific Islands[5] including New Caledonia,[12] India[13] and Cambodia.[14] In Australia it occurs in Queensland from near the border with New South Wales to Cape York.[3]


Twelve species of plant in eight families are known to be hosts to Balanophora fungosa var. indica including some of those in the genera Syzygium, Olea and Rapanea.[14] The plant is sometimes a weed in coffee and tea plantations.[15]

Numerous small animals visit the flowers, including ants, springtails, flies, a moth of the family noctuidae, and even rats, which appear to be attracted by the smell. Workers of the Asiatic honeybee, Apis cerana have been observed collecting pollen.[16] Two beetle species of the genus Lasiodactylus, a moth of the family Pyralidae and a moth of the family Tipulidae use the bracts at the base of the flowers as a breeding site.[17]

Use as medicine[edit]

Some cultures, such as the Paliar people of Tamil Nadu, use B. fungosa to treat medical conditions.[15]


  1. ^ "Balanophora fungosa". Australian Plant Census. Retrieved 17 September 2020.
  2. ^ a b "Balanophora fungosa". BSA Parasitic Plant Pages. St. Louis, MO: Botanical Society of America. Archived from the original on 20 April 2019. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d F.A.Zich; B.P.M.Hyland; T.Whiffen; R.A.Kerrigan (2020). "Balanophora fungosa subsp. fungosa". Australian Tropical Rainforest Plants Edition 8 (RFK8). Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research (CANBR), Australian Government. Retrieved 29 June 2021.
  4. ^ Kuijt, Job; Hansen, Bertel (2014-11-18). The Families and Genera of Vascular Plants Volume XII. Springer. p. 206. ISBN 978-3-319-09295-9.
  5. ^ a b c "Flora of China". Retrieved 18 January 2015.
  6. ^ "Balanophora fungosa". APNI. Retrieved 25 December 2015.
  7. ^ Forster, Johann Reinhold; Forster, Georg (1775). Characteres generum plantarum, quas in itinere ad insulas maris Australis. London. p. 100. Retrieved 25 December 2015.
  8. ^ Brown, Roland Wilbur (1956). The Composition of Scientific Words. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press. p. 415.
  9. ^ "Balanophora fungosa subsp. fungosa". Australian Plant Census. Retrieved 7 May 2021.
  10. ^ "Balanophora fungosa subsp. indica". Australian Plant Census. Retrieved 7 May 2021.
  11. ^ Barlow, B.A. (1984) in George, A.S. (ed) Flora of Australia. Volume 22. Rhizophorales to Celastrales. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.
  12. ^ "Balanophora fungosa". Endemia, New Caledonia. Retrieved 28 June 2021.
  13. ^ Rao, J. Prakasa; Satish, K.V.; Sankar, B. Siva; Reddy, C. Sudhakar; Kumar, O. Aniel (26 February 2015). "On the occurrence of parasitic plant Balanophora fungosa J.R. Forster & G. Forster (Balanophoraceae) in Andhra Pradesh, India" (PDF). Journal of Threatened Taxa. 7 (2): 6943–6946. doi:10.11609/JoTT.o3962.6943-6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 25 December 2015.
  14. ^ a b Kim, Joo Hwan; Won, Hyosig (4 November 2013). "Identification of Plant Host Species of Balanophora fungosa var. indica from Phnom Bokor National Park of Cambodia using DNA barcoding techniquein". Korean Journal of Plant Taxonomy. 43 (4): 252–262. doi:10.11110/kjpt.2013.43.4.252. Retrieved 12 January 2015.
  15. ^ a b Kannan, R.; Babu, U.V. (September 2011). "Pharmacognostical Studies on Balanophora fungosa – a Negative Listed Plant". Ancient Science of Life. 31 (1): 22–25. PMC 3377038. PMID 22736886.
  16. ^ Suetsugu, Kenji; Aoyama, Toshiyuki (September 2014). "Apis cerana visiting flowers of the Holoparasitic Plant Balanophora fungosa ssp. indica". Entomological News. 124 (2): 145–147. doi:10.3157/021.124.0211. Retrieved 25 December 2015.
  17. ^ Irvine, Anthony K.; Armstrong, Joseph E. (1991). "Beetle Pollination in Tropical Forests of Australia". In K.S. Bawa; M. Hadle (eds.). Reproductive Ecology of Tropical Forest Plants. CRC Press. p. 143. ISBN 9781850702689.