An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

Indian Pipe

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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Pinesap Flowering

8-4-15 pinesap 378Pinesap, like its close relative Indian Pipe, is a flowering plant which lacks chlorophyll, and therefore is not green and cannot make its own food. Often found under pine trees, Pinesap’s color ranges from yellow to pink, red, orange or brown or some combination of these. Often pine sap that flowers in the summer is yellowish, while pink is more dominant in the fall. Pinesap gets its nutrients from other plants’ roots, but not directly. Mycorrhizal fungi are the middlemen, connecting the roots of Pinesap with those of the fungi’s host plant, allowing nutrients to be passed along from the host plant to the Pinesap. Being the beneficiary of a fungi-dependent relationship makes Pinesap a myco-heterotroph.

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