Indian Pipe – Why is it white?

The peculiarities of the Indian Pipe wildflower as described in my wildflower field guides had intrigued me. To my surprise, I discovered several plants growing at the edge of our yard, under some pine trees. Indian Pipe, also known as ghost flower or corpse plant, is a strange looking plant. Its white, waxy appearance is due to a lack of chlorophyll. Indian Pipe does not use photosynthesis to make food. Rather, it obtains sustenance from decaying plant material. Indian Pipe is often found growing in clusters, but is also seen in pairs or as a single flower.
white stemmed wildflowerDuring the pollination process the flower head nods toward the ground, however, the flower head turns upright after the pollination process.

Two Indian Pipe wildflowers, one nodding and one upright

Usually the plant is white when it emerges from the ground, but then, it can turn pink (as the ones in our yard). Once the plant releases its seeds, it starts to turn black.

Overhead view of Indian PipeWhile Indian Pipe lacks the characteristics that many associate with beautiful flowers, I think mother nature has done her job well. Indian Pipe is beautiful in its own way. (The flowers below had been broken off the cluster. I gathered them from the ground to photograph. Since they turn black quickly, they do not make a good picked bouquet.)

three Indian Pipe flowers

~ by Pinetree Photo Nature Discovery on September 1, 2011.

One Response to “Indian Pipe – Why is it white?”

  1. When I first discovered this flower, I classified it as a mushroom. It is unique!

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