Indian Pipe

Monotropa uniflora

Indian pipe is an unusual small plant, colored entirely bright white or pinkish-white, emerging on the shaded forest floor from about the end of June throughout the summer. It has a short upright stem terminated by a single nodding bell-shaped flower, all together forming a silhouette resembling a smoking pipe. Pollinated by bumblebees, the flower develops into a fruit—a capsule that releases tiny seeds dispersed by wind. As one can readily observe, this is a normal flowering plant in every respect, except for the complete lack of chlorophyll. Without chlorophyll Indian pipe cannot absorb solar energy and produce its own sugars, so it steals a little from the surrounding plants using fungus hyphae attached to plant roots as a pipeline! Many forest plants commonly form friendly unions (mycorrhizae) with fungi, exchanging chemical substances to mutual benefit: the fungus delivers mineral nutrition to the plant, while enjoying access to sugars made by the plant. Some of the sugars obtained by the fungus are consumed by Indian pipes attached to its hyphae. Requiring no sunlight, Indian pipe can grow in the darkest situations. The Native Americans used its sap to treat eye infections and other ailments.

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September 13

Ripening fruit changes position from nodding to upright. August 23

Indian pipe turns light brown when the fruit is ripe, then finally dries to black, while still dispersing seed over the winter and into the next spring. April 29

May 3