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Wisconsin Plant of the Week

Monotropa uniflora L.

Monotropaceae (Indian Pipe Family)

Common Name:

Indian pipe

09/18/2000

Indian pipe is a native perennial wildflower thatís often mistaken for a fungus.  As it evolved it lost the ability to produce chlorophyll and so appears nearly white, or occasionally pink, and translucent. Instead of producing its own food by photosynthesis, itís a saprophyte, i.e. it uses fungi associated with its roots to extract food from decaying vegetation. Indian Pipe is especially associated with dead tree roots.

Indian pipe grows in relatively undisturbed dry to mesic woodlands, usually with dead stumps, and in sphagnum moss in acidic bogs. Their dependence on a specific fungus limits their spread by seed and they are usually found in patches rather than as isolated plants.  They seem to appear after a heavy rain. The plants turn black and gelatinous when picked, and they turn black as they mature and dry.

The waxy stems are up to 20 cm tall and arise from a tight ball of roots. Since Indian pipe obtains all its nutrient from other plants, its leaves serve no purpose and are reduced to small scales. The solitary flowers, up to 2 cm long, nod when young, and become erect as the seeds ripen.  The floral structure is very similar to that of the closely related blueberry family (Ericaceae).

  • Origin of the name: Monotropa: Gr., monos, alone, single; Gr., tropos, a turning; refers to the flowers turning upward as they ripen; uniflora: L., unus, one; L. flos (gen. floris), flower
  • Range:  S. Canada to Mexico, except treeless areas, e. Asia
  • WI Range:  Statewide in woodlands
  • Common associates: Penn sedge, red oak, aralia
  • Wetland Indicator Status: FACU
  • Coefficient of Conservatism: C = 10 (S&W), C = 5 (MI)
     
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