Ghost pipes

Monotropa uniflora (ghost pipes, Indian pipes) in mature white oak forest.

I’m always on the lookout for cool plants and critters during my daily walk with Beau and Madam, and today we saw one of the coolest plants ever — Monotropa uniflora (ghost pipes, Indian pipes).

Monotropa uniflora (ghost pipes, Indian pipes) in mature white oak forest.

This bizarre plant, a member of the blueberry family (Ericaceae), occurs throughout much of Missouri, but the plants seem to pop up sporadically and unpredictably and are difficult to locate intentionally. The common name derives from their unique shape, the nodding flowers — one atop each stem — giving the plant a pipe-shaped appearance, and their pure white coloration — a consequence of the complete absence of any chlorophyll in their tissues. As such, the plants are unable to photosynthesize and must obtain nutrition from decaying organic material on and in the soil, which they do with the aid of soil-inhabiting fungi that digest the matter into basic compounds that the plant can absorb.

Monotropa uniflora (ghost pipes, Indian pipes) in mature white oak forest.

The nodding flowers will eventually turn upwards as the fruits form and mature, so I am anxious to keep an eye on these plants as that happens over the next couple of weeks.

Monotropa uniflora (ghost pipes, Indian pipes) in mature white oak forest.

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2022

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