Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora)
Yesterday, we saw over thirty specimens of this supposedly uncommon saprophyte along the first two miles of the Hamilton Mountain trail (along with four phantom orchids)!
Some things to know about this plant and other saprophytes:
- Even though they have no leaves and contain no chlorophyll, they are plants, not fungi.
- Having no chlorophyll, they do not need the sun and can grow in total shade.
- They are not a family of plants. Indian pipe belongs to the heath family, but many saprophytes are orchids (phantom orchid, coralroot).
- They do not feed off nearby trees directly, but rather form a complex symbiotic (mycorrhizal) relationship with an intermediary fungi to access nutrients from the roots of the trees.
The name uniflora means “single flower” and refers to the fact that each stalk only has one nodding flower. The all white plant, also called “ghost plant” and “corpse plant” turns pinkish after it has been fertilized (see photo below), then black as it ages and dies.