(WJHL) – If you’ve been hiking in the Appalachian Mountains for long, there’s a good chance you have seen or stepped on an insidious, ground-dwelling parasite without even realizing it.

Lucky for you, that parasite is a bigger fan of tree sap than anything humans have to offer.

American cancer-root is more commonly known as bear corn or squawroot in Appalachia, but its official species name is Conopholis americana.

According to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), American cancer-root is a wildflower found almost entirely in states east of the Mississippi River and in eastern provinces of Canada. Contrary to the flower’s name, USFS said no research has shown links to either cancer causes or prevention. The name most likely arose from its tumor-like parasitic nature.

The plant is best recognized by its clumps of yellow-brown growths and complete lack of typical green hues. You can find a close-up below:

Photo: Jackson Kusack, iNature

Bear corn’s drab appearance is a symptom of the plant’s unusual feeding behavior. The USFS described the organism as fully parasitic, meaning it can only grow on the roots of other plants, and it produces no green chlorophyll to harness the sun’s power.

Most of an individual cancer-root’s mass is hidden underground in the form of a root system attached to oak and beech tree roots. Once its roots dig into the host plant, the USFS said the species tends to create a growth known as a gall for a few years before making itself known on the surface.

According to the University of Virginia, some research shows no major impact from cancer-root’s victimization of host plants. When the plant has had enough, stems covered in yellow buds burst through the surface and grow to 2-8 inches in height during the spring. After that, the buds open, form seed pods and scatter the next generation of scaly, dirt-dwelling flowers.