Looking like an elongated pinecone emerging from the ground, Boschniakia rossica (northern groundcone) is actually a non-photosynthetic plant that parasitizes roots of alders and other woody plants. The entire aboveground plant is actually a fruiting stalk, dark brown-purple in color, sometimes with yellow-green scales. Stems are thick, with alternate triangular scale-like leaves, often with flowers on the entire length of the stalk. Petals are fused, with a long upper lip (8-13 mm long), shallowly divided, giving each flower a hooded appearance. Flowers are perfect, with the stamens extending outside the corolla. Fruits are capsules that irregularly split; one flowering stalk can produce thousands of tiny seeds. There are no other plants in Denali that can be confused with the distinctive Boschniakia rossica.
Boschniakia rossica is a parasitic perennial. It flowers 4-5 years after the parasitism is established. Flowers appear in mid-summer.
Boschniakia rossica is a flowering plant entirely dependent on parasitizing alders. Flowering stalks are produced each year, but pollinators are unknown, and it is likely reliant on self-fertilization. One inflorescence can produce up to 300,000 minute seeds. capsules split open to release these, spread by wind and gravity. B. rossica can also spread underground via its rhizomes, as long as it is connected to the roots of alders.
Dried, ground B. rossica is used as a herbal anti-senility compound in China. Studies of its anti-radical and cancer-preventative properties are ongoing. The root was used by the Tlingit to treat sores, presumably as a poultice, wash, or in combination with other medicinal plants such as Oplopanax horridum (McGregor 1981 in Garibaldi 1999).
Boschniakia is parasitic on alder and other shrub species. The species range is amphi-Beringian, in North America to Northwest Territories and B.C., in Eurasia this species occurs in the Russian Far East, Siberia and China. This species is sometimes also found to be parasitic on Betula, Vaccinium, Picea, Salix, and Chamaedaphne shrubs. In Denali, Boschniakia occurs widely in scattered localities across the Park, in a subset of sites occupied by Alnus spp.
Boschniakia rossica's distribution is dependent on alder's habitat preferences. Its elevational range in the park is 135 to 963 m. It seems to fruit at a lower-elevation subset of alder's localities (found at 122 to 1236 m).