Can anyone confirm if this is Indian Pipe?

stoloniferous(6)March 1, 2008

I'm so excited about finding this plant in my own backyard that I'm afraid I may be jumping to conclusions. Can anyone here confirm if this is Indian Pipe? The stalks are about six inches high, and growing on a slight rise in the woods near marshy ground around other shady-growing, moisture-loving native plants of Massachusetts.

I spotted these pods a few weeks ago, but only after seeing these pictures in the link below did I have any idea of what they could possibly be.


Here is a link that might be useful: Really nice photos of Indian Pipe, unlike my own.

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naturegirl_2007 5B SW Michigan(5B SW Michigan)

Sure looks like it could be. Right habitat and height, also. Here's a link to some photos of pollinated and dried specimens, scroll down to see the dried, split ones for comparision. Is the seedhead split into five parts? One I see in your photo isn't a great match but the others look like they may be. Not sure how weathering would affect the appearance. It is interesting how the flower starts out nodding down and then turns up after pollination. Alot I see around here don't ever turn up...guess they are not getting pollinated.

Very cool that you have this plant in your own yard....ghost flower is my favorite nickname for it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Indian Pipe

    Bookmark   March 1, 2008 at 7:57PM
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Confirmed! Thank you Naturegirl! Mine have five lobes, and that same distinctive nobby thing on top. And with the snow melting away, I found two more clusters! *happy dance*

So the flowers tilt upward when they turn into seed-pods - fascinating!

I gave one of the pods a shake to see if it still contained seeds, but it looks like they've been spread to the wind already. (Which suits me fine - I think the plant has a better idea of what to do with its seeds than I would.)

Now I just need to figure out how to wind a little path around the area so we'll be able to watch the pipes grow in the summer. :)

    Bookmark   March 2, 2008 at 2:45PM
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The morning sunlight was in my favor, so I got some better pictures. . .

    Bookmark   March 3, 2008 at 9:57PM
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ellen_s(z5 centralMA)

Very cool! Sounds like you have a moist shady undisturbed location which is where these guys grow. They are kind of like mushrooms in that they do not need sunlight to grow, but instead get their food by absorbing organic matter from their surroundings (like leaf litter etc).

    Bookmark   March 5, 2008 at 8:08AM
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Thanks Ellen. :) That describes the location perfectly. The area has been protected by what appear to be a combination of dense poison ivy, mud, and neglect. Now itÂs like IÂve got a secret garden of alien life-forms all to myself!

For lack of actual gardening to do, IÂve been doing research on the plants in my yard that I identify. It looks like the most recent information (gathered from my rather scatterbrained searches) on Indian pipe is that they get their nutrients from a particular fungus, which in tern lives in symbiosis with a few types of tree. There are fancy names for these relationships that I canÂt keep straight, but the relationship is described in some writings as symbiotic and in others as parasitic. The notion that these plants live off of decomposing leaf litter seems to be an old one.

"It has long been recognized that these plants must obtain their food from a source other than photosynthesis. In the early-1800s, microscopic examination of monotrope roots indicated that they were not connected to tree roots, but were closely associated with abundant fine threadlike structures. However, the nature of this mycorrhizal association and even the fact that the threads were fungus hyphae was initially not appreciated.

"Eventually the fact that fungi were always closely associated with these roots became well established, although widely ignored. Botanists assumed that these plants obtained their food by decomposing leaf litter, and references to these "saprophytic" plants continue to appear in many college biology and botany textbooks. However, there is no evidence that these plants have any decomposer ability and it takes only one look at their short stubby roots to see that they are not designed for efficient decomposition and nutrient capture (Figure 4)."

This article goes on to talk about experiments with a relative of the Indian pipe, called pinesap, that investigate whether the plants in this family are parasites or symbiants:

". . . . Later studies repeatedly have confirmed Björkman's finding that achlorophyllous plants receive their food from the ectomycorrhizal fungi with which they form mycorrhizas. With respect to the carbon-rich photosynthates, the ultimate source is the trees."

It looks like these types of plants may also be giving something back to the fungus, but this has yet to be confirmed; and the relationship may change during parts of the plantÂs life-cycle. ItÂs fascinating stuff!

Here is a link that might be useful: MykoWeb article

    Bookmark   March 5, 2008 at 11:29AM
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can you trade me some indian pipe seeds for something?

    Bookmark   April 13, 2008 at 10:44AM
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Happy birthday Ambrose. :)

I didnÂt think the Indian pipe seed-pods had any seeds left in them, but I crunched one up to see, and out came a fine dust of what IÂm guessing are seeds. IÂm talking *really* fine, as in IÂm not sure I can get this stuff into an envelope without losing nine tenths of it. But I can go ahead and send you a few uncrushed seedpods, which, with any luck, are also still full. (And I wouldnÂt mind some of those mayapple seeds you mentioned on your trade list, if youÂve still got them. :)

If you arenÂt familiar with Indian pipe, however, I have to warn you  you arenÂt likely to have any luck growing these. It sounds like these may only germinate in the presence of a particular fungus that lives in symbiosis with a few varieties of tree roots. Mine are growing beneath maple and oak trees, in very damp soil, in the company of poison ivy, jack-in-the-pulpit, and skunk cabbage. Your best bet for growing Indian pipe would be to find a similar location, scatter the seeds there, and cross your fingers. Or collect some of the soil and leaf litter from such a location to try growing it in.

The USDA website on this plant can be found here:

. . .and among the links it lists is one on the propagation of Indian pipe:

Ah, anyway, send me an e-mail with your mailing address, and IÂll get some seedpods in the mail for you to experiment with.


    Bookmark   April 14, 2008 at 7:02PM
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