Scientifically, Monotropa uniflora is commonly referred to the ghost or corpse plant because of pale grey appearance and drooping flower. The American Indian used the six to eight inch flowering plants with roots to treat warts, inflamed eyes, restlessness and pain. The single flower is pollinated by bumblebees and produces thousands of microscopic seeds distinctly composed of ten cells each. The seeds are dispersed by the wind.
Since Indian pipes are non-photosynthesizing; they depend indirectly on trees and mushrooms to obtain their food. This is done in a clever, round-about, three-way love affair.
Chlorophyll-rich trees, such as oaks and maples, surrounding the Indian pipe produce sugar as they chemically interact with the sun. Some of this sugar is then traded for minerals and water from the Russula mushroom which grows near the roots of the trees. The parasitic Indian pipe then steals some of that sugar from the Russula to feed itself.
The Indian Pipes are commonly sighted in summertime forays in our western Pennsylvania deciduous forest, but globally are considered rare. Please respect the Indian pipe by leaving them intact, enjoying their delicate beauty, and understanding their parasitic relationship with forest producers and decomposers. Lee Peterson, the author of this field guide and the son of Roger Tory Peterson, shares that foraging for wild edibles will give a feel of natural cycles and the flow of energy. Searching for wild food increases our awareness of the climatic seasons and how plants store their nutrients. In spring and summer a wild crafter searches for leafy shoots for green salads and in the fall -- seeds, fruits, and nuts. The best time to harvest plant roots is after a heavy frost.
If we are willing to try something new, there are treats to be had from the wild. It is exciting to explore these free gifts from God, especially with young students. So grab a reliable field guide, step outside the (cereal) box, and discover the delectable delights for an outdoor dining experience.