Sarcodes is the monotypic genus of a north-west American flowering springtime plant in the heath family (Ericaceae), containing the single species Sarcodes sanguinea, commonly called the snow plant or snow flower. It is a parasitic plant that derives sustenance and nutrients from mycorrhizal fungi that attach to tree roots. Lacking chlorophyll, it is unable to photosynthesize. Ectomycorrhizal (EM) symbioses involve a mutualism between a plant root and a fungus; the plant provides fixed carbon to the fungus and in return, the fungus provides mineral nutrients, water and protection from pathogens to the plant. The snow plant takes advantage of this mutualism by tapping into the network and stealing sugars from the photosynthetic partner by way of the fungus. This is known as mycoheterotrophy. The snow plant is host-specific and can only form relationships with the ectomycorrhizal Basidiomycete Rhizopogon ellenae.
Sarcodes sanguinea is native to montane areas of the California Floristic Province, from the Oregon Cascade Range (as far north as the Umpqua River), through the mountains of California including the Transverse Ranges (though it is absent from the California Coast Ranges between the Klamath Mountains), and into the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir range of northern Baja California.
Its species epithet sanguinea refers to the striking red flower that emerges from the sometimes still snow-covered ground in early spring or summer; this may be as late as July in high elevations, such as those of the High Sierra Nevada and Cascades.
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