Sunday, July 28, 2013

Indian Pipe

There's one wildflower I have always been fascinated with but I've only come across once in my life, many years ago in the Hocking Hills.

However, I finally found it again, this time essentially in my backyard. While hiking after the rain at AW Marion State Park, I came across a strange plant known as Monotropa uniflora.

These are the strange plants in question. Monotropa uniflora goes by a few common names. I prefer Indian Pipe, but it is also known as the Corpse Plant or Ghost Plant. You can see why; the deathly-white plant is almost skeletal in appearance. Why is it white? Well, the reason why is something that makes this plant very strange in the plant world. Indian Pipe lacks chlorophyll, the biomolecule that allows most plants to harness energy from the sun. Chlorophyll also gives plants their green hue, and the absence of it in Indian Pipe leaves the plant a ghastly white. Since it lacks one of the most critical ingredients for photosynthesis, Indian Pipe is left to be parasitic to get its energy. Indian Pipe, being a myco-heterotroph, feeds upon certain fungi that are mycorrhizal with trees (that is, the fungi form a mutualistic relationship with the trees). In short, Indian Pipe steals energy from a fungus that is sharing nutrients and energy with a tree. Quite a multi-leveled food chain, isn't it?

Here's a close-up of the flowering end. This specimen was all white, but many times they have a pale-pinkish hue to them, and rarely they even have a deep red hue. Since it isn't dependent on sunlight for photosynthesis, Indian Pipe can thrive in very dark areas, including dense understory areas in forests. This species has been recorded in 59 of the 88 Ohio counties, mostly in the Eastern portion. They're quite small (only a few inches tall), but if you look out for them in nutrient-rich and dense forests you're bound to come across some!

Hargus Lake after some rain.
I highly encourage curious people to go to their local park and explore, explore, explore. You are never quite sure what you'll find. In my case, AW Marion SP is my local park, and I've found many, many interesting things over the years, from a Ross's Goose, to Caribou Lichen, Indian Pipe, Running-Pine, waterfalls, snakes, and more.

I know I haven't been terribly active lately; things have been hectic. Come August 16th, I'll be moving down to Athens, OH, to start college! I'll be majoring in Wildlife and Conservation Sciences, so I'm sure that will lead me to many interesting stories which I can share on here. Have a nice week!