While taking a stroll in the rich dense woods of New Hampshire we came across several clusters of these pale plants. Their appearance and story of survival are so unique I felt compelled to share.
First, Indian Pipe also known as Ghost Pipe, is indeed a plant and not a fungus. Her color is absent and could easily be misidentified as a mushroom, but rest assure she’s a single flowering plant with scale-like leaves. Indian Pipe is related to the blueberry, cranberry, and rhododendron family. The absence of color is due to the absence of chlorophyll – which is vital for photosynthesis and allows the plant to absorb energy from light to produce nutrients. This bring us to the question, “How does this plant get food?”
Monotropa uniflora gathers food through a parasitic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi (specifically Russula and Lactarius mushrooms) and photosynthetic trees (typically Beech and Pine). This bridge of nutrient exchange begins to form when the tree provides nutrients to the fungus and the fungus in return provides essential minerals and water to the tree. This is an example of symbiosis – a little give and a little take. When this bridge of nutrient exchange forms between tree and fungus, Monotropa uniflora will begin to grow by absorbing mainly carbon from the fungus. She will readily take the nutrients produced and will give nothing in return, and therefore is considered parasitic on other plants. She is difficult to propagate due to this very specific nutritional network making her somewhat challenging to find. However, when the conditions are right, you’ll find little clusters growing throughout the forest. She resides in temperate regions throughout the world and slightly off the beaten path under the tree canopy.
Medicinal use of Indian Pipe:
Gentle pain reliever
Indian Pipe is beautiful and a wonder to observe. Her difficulty to propagate gives me excellent reason to look and not touch. There are a plethora of herbs that can be used medicinally in similar ways, therefore I personally have no good reason to wildcraft. I hope you venture outside and down a wooded path to find this beauty!