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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wildflower Wednesday June 2013 -- Indian Pipe

On a recent garden tour I had the singular joy of seeing two patches of the curious native plant Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) growing in one of the gardens, the garden of Millie and Craig Russell in Gig Harbor, WA. This fascinating parasitic plant survives without a speck of chlorophyll by getting its nutrients from a mycorrhizal fungus that is itself living off the roots of a tree. Indian pipe is found in the darkest recesses of the forest. Because it has no chlorophyll, it is completely white, and instead of actual leaves on each stem it has something that more closely resembles scales. If the flower is picked it almost immediately wilts and turns black. The flowers provide nectar for small bumblebees, which pollinate it. The flowers then produce seeds. Any attempt to transplant results in the Indian pipe's death, so it is even more finicky than lady's slipper orchids. According to Millie, it arose in the garden with no help from her.

That patch of ghostly white to the right of the sprinkler head is Indian pipe, also called Ghost flower, or Corpse plant.

It was a real treat getting to see this plant. I'd heard of it, and seen photos in books.

A second, smaller patch is a little further along, but smaller.

Wildflower Wednesday is the brainchild of Gail Eichelberger of the blog clay and limestone, and its purpose is to celebrate wildflowers from around the world on the fourth Wednesday of every month. Check out Gail's post here, where you'll find links to other blog posts about wildflowers.

13 comments:

  1. Fascinating plant and an interesting story to go with it.

    The flowers do look like little ghosts, very translucent and almost pearl-like.

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  2. About 20 years ago I found a clump of a different Monotropa here. Monotropsis odorata has dark reddish stems. They're called Sweet Pinesaps. I saw it near pine trees on whose roots it grows for a couple years and then it disappeared. I look for it every year, but a big patch of poison ivy keeps me at bay. Peter Loewer mentioned in his book 'The Wild Gardener' saying, 'Plants bloom in sandy woods from maryland and Kentucky and south to Georgia and Alabama but I've never seen it.' I feel privileged to at least have seen it. Once.

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  3. What an interesting plant, much cuter and not annoying like dodder. I've never heard of it. It's interesting that bumblebees like it, they are fantastic pollinators.

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  4. You look as if you've seen a ghost(flower!) It was so exciting to see this in person!

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  5. I've seen plenty of pictures but have never seen this one in person. What fun!

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  6. Fascinating!
    Have a wonderful day!
    Lea
    Lea's Menagerie

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  7. What an incredibly strange plant

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  8. Well that is cool that you ran into this! I actually got seeds from Gail and planted them...but don't know if they will really do anything in my garden. Only time will tell!

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  9. Oh my gosh I have never seen anything like this plant before.

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  10. Looks a bit like an alien life form. Sure those are not connected to something underground with three eyes?

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  11. I have always loved this plant and was happy to learn more about it..so unusual.

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  12. It's very cool and other worldly! I've not seen it in my garden, but it might be hiding among the leaf litter. Happy WW.

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