Put That in Your Pipe

indian pipe

Indian Pipe plant (a member of the same plant family as blueberry and cranberry) has a kind of spooky appeal. I guess that’s why it is known by other names like “ghost plant” and “corpse plant”.  The name comes from its white color, like a ghost or corpse, but also because it grows in dark woods rich with leaf litter. The Connecticut Botanical Society web page on this plant says it grows from June to September. I confess I’ve never noticed it in June, but maybe that is because I only really start looking for it until July. It is part of my informal “July checklist”. I have one of these for every month of the year. They refresh me throughout the seasons. It marks the passage of time and keeps nature at the forefront of my personal calendar. Noticing the little things like when Indian Pipe Plant blooms moves the year along in such a pleasant way. But believe me, if the Connecticut Botanical folk say it appears in June, then it does.

white mushroom But Indian Pipe is also a big imposter. Many people fall for its most obvious ruse: they figure it is a mushroom. Since it is white, it’s an easy mistake to make. Indian Pipe has no chlorophyll and doesn’t get its energy from the sun. It gets food instead from organic matter in the soil. But here’s where the story gets really good. Not only does Indian Pipe often fool people into thinking its a mushroom, it also fools mushrooms themselves into thinking it is a mushroom! In this way it can parisitize the same organic matter that the real mushroom is using. The actual mushroom also siphons energy from nearby trees, which in turn is used by the Indian Pipe, so the whole deception becomes a sort of botanical menage a trois. Botany can be so lascivious.fungus
Our woods at Hill-Stead are full of Indian Pipe right now. It really does look like bunches of white pipes pushing up from the woodland floor. Typically it grows in bunches of less than ten flowers, but it can produce up to 20 in a clump. Since they like the dark woods, their whiteness really jumps out as you approach. So it isn’t hard to find them. Don’t let the spine-chilling names get to you. I pipe baby

See You on the Trails,
Diane Tucker, Estate Naturalist

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4 Responses to “Put That in Your Pipe”

  1. Bridget Willard Says:

    How neat. So if it’s not a mushroom, what is it?

    • hillsteadnatureblog Says:

      What a great question! I should have addressed it in the article-it is a herbaceous plant in the heath family-the same family as blueberries and cranberries!

  2. Patsy Says:

    That’s very interesting!

  3. Marilyn Says:

    This is amazingly interesting!!! Is “amazingly” a word …hehehehe … it sounded good and it is how I feel … oh well!

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