Meet Euphrasia nemorosa, the eyebright. This lovely little plant is native to the northern regions of North America. A quick glance at the flowers of this species may seem to suggest a member of the mint family but this would be wrong. Once placed in Scrophulariaceae, it is now thought to reside in Orobanchaceae. Like other members of this group, E. nemorosa is a hemiparasite. It uses specialized roots to tap into the roots of plants growing around it. In the wild, research has shown that E. nemorosa seems to prefer to parasitize grasses but laboratory experiments have shown that it will parasitize a variety of plants if given the chance. It can even grow without parasitizing other plants but those that did grew small and weak. 

Parasitic plants are an interesting bunch. They push the limits of what is traditionally accepted in the realm of plant physiology. Non-parasitic plants usually have to balance between CO2 uptake and water loss. They do this by controlling their stomata, which are tiny openings on the leaf. Because they are attached to a host, parasitic plants do not have to worry about minimizing water loss and instead want to maximize water loss to gain as much carbon from their host plant as possible. 

Another interesting aspect of Euphrasia ecology is their preference for disturbance. Euphrasia are plants of disturbed meadows, fields, and man-made habitats. There is a lot of work being done to examine which kinds of species thrive in and around humans. Research has shown that by selecting for native species like Euphrasia, the species composition on these types of disturbed habitats can take on a more biodiverse character instead of the usual non-native monoculture.

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