Indian pipes are natives of the temperate regions of Asia, South America, and North America.
They are plants, members of the blueberry family, but unusual ones. Most plants use photosynthesis to convert sunlight into
the energy they need to grow. Indian pipes lack chlorophyll—that’s why they’re white—and instead
get their energy from parasitizing certain fungi. The fungi, in turn, derive their energy from trees.
Indian pipes are able to grow on dark forest floors because they don’t need light. They even
grow in the dark! (Remarkably,
there are almost 3,000 species that similarly lack chlorophyll, and get their energy from other means.
Since they don’t need to be green, they come in all kinds of colors.)
Identification: The ghostly pale color of these fragile-looking
plants, and the nodding tops, makes them quite unique. In addition to white, plants may also be pink or,
rarely, red. Plants are 4-10" (10-25 cm) high. Flowers are white, bell-shaped, about ¾" (1.9 cm) long.
They often occur in tight groups. Flowers nod downward during most of their lives, but point straight up
when forming seeds—the genus, Monotropa, is named for this trait, meaning “once-turned.”
Indian pipes appear in rich forests, and are a sign of good hunting grounds for
Rare red form, from a mixed forest near Ithaca, NY, 7/12/2007, by Dave Matthews.