Have you ever seen this while on a hike in the woods? Most people assume it is some kind of fungus since it doesn’t look much like any green plant they have ever seen. It is whitish and looks waxy, growing in shaded woods with rich soil. But amazingly, this totally white, odd-looking thing–called Indian Pipe– is really a flowering plant that lacks chlorophyll. So unlike other plants, it doesn’t make its own food. So how does it get food then? Well, it has a parasitic relationship with two organisms– a tree and a fungus.
You may or may not know that the soil is full of tiny, root-like threads called mycelia. These are from many kinds of fungus living in the soil. These mycelia have a symbiotic relationship with nearby trees in that the fungus and the tree exchange nutrients so both benefit.
Indian Pipe, which is also called Ghost Plant, Corpse Plant, and Dead Man’s Fingers, has roots that tap into the mycelia in the soil. And the mycelia tap into the nearby trees. Thus, the Indian Pipe gets its nutrients from both the fungus and the tree without giving anything in return.
Indian Pipe grows 4-10 inches tall, often near a fallen tree. It will turn black when older and the delicate-looking flowers can be looking skyward, or drooping to the ground. You can find this blooming in the forest from June through September in soils that are rich with decaying plant matter.