Friday, August 3, 2007

A ghost of the past

Along the trail to Flying Mountain, in a dense, green, heavily wooded area—it appeared against the shaded darkness. Even in the shadows, its white silhouette stood out in clear contrast to the deep, rich tones of the woods.
And, though I hadn’t seen one in many years, I immediately recognized it as being familiar to me. Funny, how just a second’s look instantly triggers a memory. An Indian Pipe, a ghost from the past, seen once, long ago.

Monotropa uniflora, with its eerie character, has an unusual life. Easily confused with fungi, it is actually a flowering plant. What makes it so unique is its lack of chlorophyll—the green coloring essential for photosynthesis.
Instead of generating its own energy from sunlight, it lives as a mycoheterotroph, in the darkness beneath its host tree in very shaded woods. In a mycoheterotrophic (phew) relationship, the host, usually a conifer or deciduous tree, is photosynthetic. A fungus in the soil acts as the middleman connecting the Indian Pipe above, to the nutrients in the tree's roots below.

This complex 3-piece relationship makes propagation difficult—the seed of the Indian Pipe must quickly form the fungi connection in order to grow. Indian Pipes, also known as ghost flower or ice plant, are native to dark, dense woods of North America, and are described as scarce to rare in occurrence.
Read more about Monotropa uniflora here and here.

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Cathy said...

Yes! Wonderful plants and an interesting connection to fungus.

I'm wondering if late summer and fall will be disappointing for mycophiles because we were so droughty here in NW Ohio till recently.

Time will tell.

Anonymous said...

these are such wonderful shots of your Indian pipes. BRAVO!

Anonymous said...

How funny that they are described as rare or scarce. We have scads of them around here. Hmm...

nina at Nature Remains. said...

You're very fortunate! Maybe the geographic distribution figures into that description. "Mainly in northern north America, and southern mountainous regions." (nothing I've ever stumbled across in 15 years in SW Ohio)
We saw them twice while in Maine--dense, dark woods.

Q said...

Wow Nina.
Thank you! I have never seen these. I love the way you told all about them and wonderful photos. I will remember to look for these when I am hiking in the woods. Too dry and hot in my area but I do travel!
I love learning about nature.
Thank you for being a great teacher. You inspire me.