Freeloaders


Today, upon kneeling to examine a lovely bed of moss on the Blanchard Loop Ski Trail, I found myself face-to-face with a ghost. There, tucked in beside the moss beneath the deep shade of the trees, I found Indian Pipe, also known as "ghost flower" or "corpse plant". The abnormal translucence of this flowering plant lends it a certain eeriness

Indian Pipe's ghostlike appeareance can be attributed to its lack of chlorophyll. A plant without chlorophyll? (Yes, I know, it goes against everything you ever learned in 8th-grade science class. ) Instead of making its own food through photosynthesis, this wily little plant freeloads off of fungus. Therefore, it does not need chlorophyll or leaves.

Here's how it works:

Despite its lack of chlorophyll, Indian Pipe is still classified as a plant. In fact, it shares a common ancestry with plants like blueberries, cranberries, heath, Rhododendron, and azalea! Like its well-loved relatives, Indian Pipe bears flowers and uses insects for pollination. Once pollinated the delicate, white flower will turn upward and the flower will brown. The ovary then develops into a small capsule with slits through which the seeds will disperse.

Watch for Indian Pipes in rich, healthy forests in shady areas.