Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora)

Macro photos taken on August 12, 2000 at Westford, MA, USA using a Canon S-10 digital camera at 1600 x 1200 resolution.

Most of the information below is taken from Hedgemaids and Fairy Candles, a 1993 book by Jack Sanders.

The Indian pipe is not a fungus, as its appearance would at first suggest. It's a flowering plant related to the dogwood, evergreen laurel, and rhododendron. The plant's tiny clan harbors only four species. Only it and pinesap are found in North America; another is native to Japan and the Himalayas (where our own Indian pipe may also be found). Another species, called bird's nest, is found in Britain and Europe.

The Indian pipe is a saprophyte, living chiefly on the decaying roots of other plants, particularly trees. Indian pipes are most often found near a dead stump in deep woods. Some botanists believe that the roots work in symbiotic conjunction with certain soil fungi to supplement its diet with food from live tree roots, which would make the plant a parasite as well as a saprophyte.

The plant's flesh turns black when cut or even bruised. It also oozes a clear, gelatinous substance when picked or wounded. Such unattractive characteristics have earned the Indian pipe some unflattering names, like ghost flower and corpse plant. Indians employed it as an eye lotion -- whence the name, eyebright -- as well as for colds and fevers. Americans of the last century treated spasms, fainting spells, and nervous conditions with it -- thus the names convulsionroot, fitroot, and convulsionweed.

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Most recently updated 2009-03-08