Last fall I saw (or maybe noticed is a better word) mature Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) plants. At first I was confused as to what these interesting plants were, since the Indian pipes pictured in guide books are usually the nodding, bell shape younger plant.
Recently I was on the North Umpqua Trail (Oregon) and found the same patch of plants I previously photographed – this time in a more “classic” stage.
Also called white ghost plant or corpse plant because of their white color, Indian pipes are members of the wintergreen family and are found from British Columbia through northern California and east across the northern United States to the Atlantic. Growing in clusters, this perennial has translucent, unbranched waxy white stems. The five petals on the flower surround 10 elongated sausage-like anthers (pollen bearing portion of stamen) and a caplike stigma (tip of the female organ that receives the pollen). The leaves are small, colorless lance-shaped scales. The entire plant turns black with age. Although the flower points downward, the plant becomes erect as it matures and the fruit points up. I remember being enchanted by Indian pipes while growing up in Pennsylvania because they were so unusual and had such an eerie beauty.
Indian pipes have no chlorophyll and cannot make their own food through photosynthesis. Instead their roots are connected by fungi to the roots of nearby conifers from which they draw nutrition. Damp conifer forests are the preferred habitat of Indian pipes.
Indigenous people used Indian pipes to treat wounds that did not heal. It was also associated with wolves and was said to grow where wolves urinated. That I doubt!
The genus and species names are very descriptive of Indian pipes: in Greek “monos” means one and “tropos” means direction – the drooping flowers are all turned to one side. The species name “uniflora” means one stem and there is just one flower per stem.
I love this plant which resembles white, waxy pipes planted in the ground.