¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† On recent walks in the woods, I have¬†noticed that the Indian¬†Pipes are out.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† You know, those¬†otherworldy-looking,¬†colorless candy canes¬†that push right up through the dried leaves on the forest floor.¬† The little clusters of waxy-looking, almost translucent¬†white beings fascinate me.¬† I see them only in the forest, and only here and there.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† Just¬†what are they?¬† A fungus?¬† A plant?¬†They certainly don’t resemble mushrooms.¬† But, with not¬†a trace of green, they don’t look like plants either.¬†¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†So I decided to do a little research.¬† The Indian Pipe, also called Ghost Flower¬† or Corpse Plant,¬†is not a fungus.¬† It is a plant.¬† Complete with a stem and¬†leaves (little scales toward the top of the stem), the Indian Pipe is topped by a solitary, nodding, bell-shaped¬†flower.¬† And solid white.¬†¬†Like other flowers, the flower of the Indian Pipe¬†contains seeds and is pollinated.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† But unlike almost all¬†plants that get their energy from sunlight, the Indian Pipe is a saprophyte.¬† It gets its nourishment from¬†dead and decaying organic matter.¬† In this sense, the Indian Pipe is like a fungus.¬†¬†¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Of course the truth is more complicated than¬†simply that the Indian Pipe¬†gets its nourishment from dead and decaying organic matter.¬†¬†The Indian Pipe is actually nourished by a micorrhizal fungus, an underground intermediary that is attached both to the Indian Pipe and to the roots of a tree.¬† The fungus is a conduit, sending nourishment it receives from the tree on to the¬† Indian Pipe!
¬†¬†¬†¬† The Indian Pipe, which grows throughout eastern forests,¬†has been viewed as a healing plant.¬† Indians used it to treat colds and fevers.¬† Early settlers used it to treat fainting spells and nervous conditions.
¬†¬†¬†¬† And there is a Cherokee legend about the Indian Pipe:¬† Long ago, when selfishness first entered the world, people began quarreling–first with their own families and tribal members, and then with other tribes.¬† The chiefs of the several tribes met together to try to solve the problem of quarreling.¬† They smoked a peace pipe together, while continuing to¬†quarrel among themselves for the next seven days and seven nights.¬† In punishment for smoking the peace pipe before actually making peace, the Great Spirit turned the chiefs into grey flowers and made them grow where¬†relatives and friends had quarreled.
¬†¬†¬†¬† The Indian Pipe has also inspired poetry.¬† Below are a couple of verses about this singular plant, along with a photo.–April Moore¬†¬†
Pale, mournful flower, that hidest in shade
¬†¬†Mild dewy damps and murky glade,
¬†¬†¬†¬†With moss and mould,
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Why dost thou hand thy ghastly head,
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†So sad and cold?
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†- Catharine Esther Beecher,
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†To the Monotropa, or Ghost Flower
Where the long, slant rays are beaming,
¬†¬†Where the shadows cool lie dreaming,
¬†¬†¬†¬†Pale the Indian pipes are gleaming–
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Laugh, O murmuring Spring!
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†- Sarah Foster Davis, Summer Song