China: Zhangye Danxia Landform – Parasitic Cistanche Deserticola Flower

While hiking in the remote slot canyon of Zhangye Danxia Geopark, I stumbled over an extremely bizarre looking plant seemingly alien and sticking from the sandy desert ground along the canyons bed. This was Cistanche Deserticola aka Desert Broomrape. The plant is fully parasitic and looks plastic and completely lacks chlorophyll. It gets all the nutrients from the underground root of the black saxaul bush. The flower looks like a pine cone or pineapple sticking from the ground. It’s endemic to the Gobi Desert and is rather rare as it is extremely prized in Chinese traditional medicine. At this point the plant is so over-collected that it’s extremely endangered and rare.