Indian Pipe, also known as Ghost Flower and Monotropa Uniflora, is a unique and interesting plant found in shady woods that are rich in decaying plant matter. I’ve seen it in many places along the Long Trail, and it’s a real standout, in the otherwise green tunnel of the Vermont rain forest.
Indian Pipe is white because it does not use chlorophyll, the stuff that most other plants use to generate energy and that makes them green. Instead it obtains nutrients by tapping into the roots of certain mushrooms in what is thought to be a parasitic relationship. However, recent research has shown that populations of mushroom fungi located near Indian Pipe are an order of magnitude more abundant that fungi located farther away, suggesting that there is a more beneficial relationship between the two.
Indian Pipe grows below ground except during it’s flowering phase, between June and September, when the plant breaks the surface and flowers. In Vermont the flowering plant grows to about 6 inches in height and grows individually or in small clumps. When one of the white flowers has been pollinated by a bee, the flower turns upright and the plant turns brown.