Birding Notes

Reflections on birds and other wildlife on the edge of a southern woodland

Monday, August 18, 2008

Indian Pipes

The ghostly-white and pale pink stems pushed up through dark, damp soil and leaf litter on the roadside, among weeds, mushrooms, and the roots of trees. Waxy-white, tulip-shaped flowers on the top of each translucent stem bent over like bowed heads as they emerged from the dirt then, as they matured, straightened up and eventually opened their petals to reveal pink fruits in the center, shaped like tiny amphorae.

At first we thought these strange-looking formations were fungi, but then learned they were Indian Pipes – saprophytic flowering plants that contain no chlorophyll and get their nourishment through a fungal relationship associated with the roots of other plants, especially trees. They’re also sometimes known as Ghost Flowers or Corpse Plants.

We found several different clusters of Indian Pipes along the road that circles around Dublin Lake in New Hampshire. Some were just beginning to push their nodding, ghostly heads up through the soil; others were standing on taller stems, with flowers still drooping over. One cluster – shown in these photos – stood about 10 inches tall, with the flowers erect, and white or pale-pink petals open to reveal the pink fruits.


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