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Fragments from Floyd

Ghost Plant


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 décor 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.

7 thoughts on “Ghost Plant”

  1. Greetings, Fred, and thanks for this lovely entry on one of my favorite woodland entities. The first few times I encountered Indian Pipe in the woods, it seemed like something from another planet. It’s lovely ethereal stuff to find in the woods.

  2. About 7-8 years after we moved into this house, I spotten some of that in the woods only about 6 feet from our driveway. I had never seen it before, and I thought it was some sort of fungus or mushroom at first. You got a great photo of it, Fred, as usual.

    I love that photo in your header!

  3. I’ve never seen anything like this. I’m continually amazed at the strange and wonderful things this planet spits out of the ground. This one’s a little creepy. Your nature photography is some of the best out there.

  4. I think this one actually feeds off the living roots of its host rather than dead or decaying matter as would be true for a saprophyte.

  5. I was thrilled to find this plant in my woods on Aug. 11. Had seen pictures and read about them, but finding one was wonderful.

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