How to Identify Indian Pipes

I was inspired to feature these weirdos after a friend of mine mentioned that she found some recently.

Indian Pipes (Monotropa uniflora) are also referred to as ghost plant or corpse plant. They are in fact plants, though some people mistake them for mushrooms.

Photo Caption: Indian Pipes look like the souls of long-gone plants due to their lack of chlorophyll.

They aren’t fungus but do prey upon it. They are parasites of mycorrhizal fungi associated with tree roots and do not make their own energy from chlorophyll and sunlight. Pinesap (Monotropa hypopithys) is a close relative.

I found mine at the Rattler Ford Campground near Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest May 2009. They’re more common in eastern US regions though they occur in many areas on multiple continents. Hard to spot due to pale coloration, they’re easier to see sprouting up in the middle of a hiking path. Look for waxy, translucent white stalks with black spots (especially as they age). Some may have pink, red, or purple color variations.

Indian pipes occur all summer long and can reach 10″ high, though they often grow stunted, close to the ground. Each plant bears a single flower but little is known about their method of pollination.

These plants are rare and mostly harmless if they show up in your yard or garden. Enjoy them for their natural oddity, they’ll wilt and vanish shortly after they appear.

Eliza Lord

I'm a Greenville, SC native (the Appalachian foothills) who wears the hats of Greenville Master Gardener & Upstate Master Naturalist. I love to write about food and sustainability.

One thought on “How to Identify Indian Pipes”

  1. Curbstone Valley Farm - July 1, 2010 3:25 pm

    Fascinating, I’ve never seen this plant before, and they really do look very ghostly. Its life cycle seems similar to one of our native orchids, Corallorhiza maculata, which is also parasitic, and lacks chlorophyll, although it is dependent on the mycelia of a specific fungus for its survival. I find these sorts of parasitic plants most interesting!
    .-= Curbstone Valley Farm´s last blog ..June Garden Update =-.

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