Indian Pipe is a plant that completely lacks chlorophyll, but has developed a resourceful way to provide itself with nutrients. It has formed a parasitic relationship with a mycorrhizal fungus. The relationship is extraordinarily complex, mysterious, and one that is not yet fully understood. What is known is that the plant, which seems to favor rich woods of oak, beech or pine, taps into a mutually beneficial relationship that the fungus has with the trees, drawing nutrients from the fungus and sugars from the trees, in order to grow, flower and produce seeds.
The seeds of the plant are miniscule, able to be picked up by the slightest breeze and float through the air to land in another area of the forest, hopefully near a fungus it can pull food from in order to germinate.
Although it is parasitic in nature, Indian Pipe has a pleasant appeal. There is a single flower on each stem which points down towards the leaf-strewn ground until fertilized, and almost as if in reverence to the trees which provides life to the plant, it turns upwards following fertilization.
Indian Pipe is blooming now, so take a break from the heat to walk in the cool, heavy shade of a forest near you, and you may happen upon this curious little plant. It is a small plant, only growing 4 to 8 inches above the ground, so be sure to look close as you wander through the woods. And, remember that although this eerie plant is very beautiful, don’t pick it. Once picked, the plant shrivels up and turns a deep black losing all of its luster, and is perhaps the very reason for its other fitting name, the Corpse Plant.