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One of those strange native perennials, it's a parasitic plant that has no chlorophyll and feed off of the roots of the host tree, in this case an Oak. These are the fruits in the picture. It's early for fruiting, but spring's warm temperatures have come very early this year. The flower spikes don't look much different in coloration or overall shape from this picture. There are leaves, but they are just small brown scales between the flowers that shrivel as the fruits mature. The Flower spike and subsequent fruits are the only above ground parts of the plant.
It is reported to be edible, and I have tasted them without issue, but the flavor isn't much to write home about. The flavor is an oxalic acid bitterness, however the bears seem to love them. Might be a potential famine food, but unless you're starving they're probably better left to the bears. Wild strawberries are plump and ripe at about the same time and are much tastier.
I hadn't heard that name before. Do you have any experience with the plant, NativeVA?
It's uncommon here. I find a new patch of it on occasion, while hiking the state parks and wilderness areas. I snapped the above picture of a new patch I found just to share here. Few people say they're seen it.
During a long hike this past Saturday we found a large area of "Cancer Root" on a fern and Oak covered steep slope. It was quite a sight. On Monday, during another hike, we discovered another small single patch, again on Oak roots. Apparently it's a bit more common here than I had noticed in the past. Perhaps the very warm and wet spring caused it to fruit before the undergrowth could hide it.