When I was teaching and in “the field” at just the right place and time with students, we’d come upon this odd “thing”, usually in deep woods and in the dark damp shade of Rhododendron.
“So. Animal, vegetable or mineral?”
Most would soon say it is a plant because it didn’t run away. It seemed rooted. But something wasn’t quite right about it as a plant.
“So what’s not right?” I’d ask them, and finally, one will say “It’s not GREEN?”
Well how can a plant be NOT green? Is the green of plants just a matter of color dÃ©cor or does it have a particular function? Then how might this plant solve that same problem without being green?
Ghost Plant (or Indian Pipe) here lacks chlorophyll, hence its pale leafery. It can’t carry on photosynthesis without that green pigment molecule that converts photons of light into high energy electrons and ultimately to hydrocarbons–sugars, starches and fats.
It is a parasite. Its roots find the roots of green plants and take up the manufactured foods from that host tree and uses it for its own growth.
We found this little bunch on our regular loop after having walked past that very spot every day for a week. It had been there all along, but this ghost til then had been invisible.