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Ghosts of August

ghosts of August 190Flowering plants have a variety of ways to obtain food.  Most have chlorophyll and thus are capable of photosynthesizing their own nutrients.  A majority of these plants (90%) are also associated with mycorrhizal fungi – fungi which attach to the roots of other plants, often trees, with which most have a symbiotic relationship (both benefit). The plant receives minerals and water from the fungi, and the fungi feed on carbohydrates and other nutrients the plant produces.

Flowering plants with no chlorophyll cannot make their own food and must rely completely on other organisms for their nutrients.  Some of these parasitic plants get their nutrients directly from the roots of another plant (Beechdrops) and others (Indian Pipe and Pinesap) receive food indirectly from fungi which get their nutrients from a photosynthetic plant.  In these situations, the mycorrhizal relationship between the non-photosynthetic plant and the fungi is not mutualistic, as only the chlorophyll-lacking plant benefits. (Photo:  Indian Pipe, Monotropa uniflora (one flower per stalk) and (insert) Pinesap, Monotropa hypopitys (many flowers per stalk).

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6 responses

  1. Tami

    Indian Pipes are one of the plants I most enjoy talking about when I give nature programs at the park I work at. Many people are shocked to discover that they are flowering plants and not fungi. We sometimes get the pale lavender colored ones, and sometimes the pinkish ones, too. Last year, we found a spot with some beechdrops that I need to go check on soon.

    August 9, 2016 at 9:51 am

  2. Most often they are associated with the presence (visible or not) of Russulas ( That is, if you see Indian pipes, you might find Russulas nearby or if you see Russulas, look for Indian pipes. Even if you don’t see the mushrooms, they are , no doubt, hooked up under the surface.

    August 9, 2016 at 10:54 am

  3. Louise Garfield

    I came across, on FaceBook, a group of people who are harvesting Indian Pipes, soaking them in Vodka, and taking tinctures to induce some sort of high. I posted that these plants are fragile and tried to discourage harvesting them.

    August 9, 2016 at 4:02 pm

  4. I wasn’t aware of of M. hypopitys – I’ll have to look closer next time to see what we have!

    August 9, 2016 at 4:20 pm

  5. Alice Pratt

    My Dad showed me Indian Pipes a loooong time ago. When I was little I wanted to be an Indian. I get happy when I see them, they are so unique. We have them in our woods. 😍

    August 9, 2016 at 5:28 pm

  6. Marilyn

    Nature is so amazing! I’ve seen Indian Pipes of course, and perhaps Pinesap without realizing the difference. But, although we have plenty of beech trees, I have totally overlooked Beechdrops – perhaps because they are so “dulll”?

    August 9, 2016 at 6:24 pm

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