Monotropa Uniflora. Ghost Plant. Corpse Plant. Indian pipe. This year has been quite a year for fungi here in the New River Gorge, I believe because of all the rain we’ve had.
The botanist in the crowd already have their hair up, because this in not, in fact a fungus. It appears like one, though, because it lacks chlorophyll and because of this is often as white a as a ghost. This lack of chlorophyll also renders it incapable of producing it’s own food from sunlight in the way that most trees, shrubs and plants do. Instead it’s a parasite that pulls nutrients from tree roots using a fungi as a tool to do so.
It’s the blanched colorless nature that so easily grabs my attention on my runs, especially because it tends to grow in dark nooks in the hollers. I see it the most where spruce trees grow, which tend to be on the north (shaded) side of our ridges where there is moisture and rich humus.
Monotropa, greek for “one bend” speaks to the single curve of each flower stalk. It’s that shape that likely earned it the name Indian Pipe. The Cherokee have a legend that explains how this flower came into the world. Loosely summarized:
Before selfishness came into the world the Cherokee lived in harmony with each other and their neighboring tribes. But, when selfishness entered into the picture quarreling began so heavily that tribal elders met to resolve the conflict. The power of selfishness engulfed even the elders who argued for days without resolution and broke the Great Spirits law that forbids smoking the pipe before peach is achieved. As punishment the Great Spirit turned these elders into the Ghost Plant and made the smoke, or fog, hang heavy over the mountains until the people learned to live selflessly.
It still hangs today across the ranges of the Smokies and the hollers of West Virginia.
740.57 miles to go.