Summer Ephemeral

Indian pipe

Earlier this week, photographer and dragonfly expert Robley Hood snapped a photo of as eerily white plant that she saw popping up all over Abbo’s Alley. No sooner had she brought it to my attention than this bodacious bunch came bustin’ out of the ground in the woods beside our house. The clump was bedecked with leaf litter and humus that it had heaved out of the ground  in its rush to reach the surface. When I removed the leaves and soil I exposed all of these blooming stems.

This is Indian Pipe, a relative of Pinesap, which I saw just a week ago in the Fiery Gizzard. It has a wonderful scientific name – Monotropa uniflora – which really means something, even to those who haven’t brushed up on their Latin lately. One flower (uniflora) per stalk faces down initially, then turns once (monotropa) to face upwards after it has been fertilized. Bees, in search of nectar, are the primary pollinators. Fruits are capsules that contain lots of tiny wind-blown seeds. The plant is a member of the Heath Family.

Indian Pipe and Pinesap have the same nutritional regime. Neither is photosynthetic, and they both obtain nutrients from mycorrhizal fungi. Plants are appearing all over Sewanee. Enjoy them now! As soon as the flowers have been pollinated the plants will turn black. Then, shortly after the fruits have formed, the above-ground stems will disappear entirely, probably a couple of weeks from now.



  1. Great picture, Mary! (Expert? Thanks, but . . . .)

  2. marypriestley

    I’d like to know who knows more!

  3. I have seen these in my back yard. There is a Native American legend associated with this plant. A group of people could not reach a decision and finally they were turned into this plant by a god. The plant is a reminder of the importance of reaching consensus. The misty air represents the smoke of the pipe they were smoking.

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