At first glance the organism above may resemble some type of fungus. It’s actually a parasitic plant known as squawroot or American cancer-root (Conopholis americana, Orobanchaceae). Most plants are autotrophic and make their own food through the use of chlorophyll and photosynthesis. Heterotrophic plants, in contrast, get their energy from other plants. Squawroot in particular is parasitic on the roots of oaks (Quercus spp.) and beeches (Fagus spp.) in the family Fagaceae.
The round structures on this plant are the fruit, each containing numerous seeds. A few weeks ago the plant would instead have had thin, delicate flowers with similar coloration. The pale cream color reflects its lack of chlorophyll. Native to eastern North America, this fascinating plant is now listed as threatened or vulnerable in several New England states.