Recently, in Tenhave Woods, located in the city of Royal Oak, I was shown a colony of Indian-pipe (Monotropa uniflora). For over 40 years I have been studying these woods and this is the first time I have seen Indian Pipe there. I believe it is a recent colonizer. This is a nice group of several hundred plants.
I have marked the location of flowering plants in a colony of Indian-pipe near Grayling. The plants seldom appear in the same spot from year to year but new clumps come up several yards [meters] away. Some years the plants do not appear above ground at all.
Because Indian-pipe does not require sunlight to produce its food it can grow in dark places on the forest floor. This flowering plant is often mistaken for a fungus because it lacks green leaves. When you see a cluster of these pure white plants in a shaft of sunlight they appear to glow, granting the plants an ethereal quality. Locally this plant is called Ghost Plant.
Indian-pipe plants are 4 to 6 inches [10 to 15cm] tall with a single hanging flower. Flowers hang downward but straighten up and point skyward after pollination. Soon after the plant is pollinated, it begins to turn black, giving it another common name of Corpse Plant. Dried seed capsules will sometimes persist through the winter.
Indian-pipe after pollination
Lacking chlorophyll, Indian-pipe gets its nutrients by parasitizing different fungi, taking food from but not giving anything to the host fungi. The host fungi attaches to the roots of living trees and takes nourishment from the tree but also gives back nutrients in a saprophytic relationship. This complex relationship between Indian-pipe, fungus, and tree might best be termed symbiotic.
Indian-pipe is currently placed in the Heath Family (Ericaceae) but it has been placed in the Shinleaf or Wintergreen Family (Pyrolaceae) or in the Indian-pipe Family (Monotropaceae). Where it is placed depends on your definition of what a plant family is. Recognizing the broad Heath Family is the best given the latest DNA evidence. You can recognize Pyroloideae as a subfamily of Ericaceae if you wish.
Pinesap (Hypopitys monotropa) is similar to Indian-pipe and at one time was placed in the same genus as Monotropa hypopithys. It is also a leafless flowering plant. It has multiple flowers on a stem and is cream colored or even reddish but never pure white. Its individual flowers are smaller than the flowers of Indian-pipe.
Pinesap after flowering and in winter
Indian-pipe has a long flowering season. I have seen it in bloom from June through the end of September. Go out and look for it.
Copyright 2015 by Donald Drife
Webpage Michigan Nature Guy
Follow MichiganNatureGuy on Facebook