Monotropa uniflora, also known as ghost plant (or ghost pipe), Indian pipe or corpse plant, is an herbaceous perennial plant native to temperate regions of Udmurtiya in European Russia, Asia, North America and northern South America, but with large gaps between areas. It was formerly classified in the family Monotropaceae, but is now included within the Ericaceae. It is of ephemeral occurrence, depending on the right conditions (moisture after a dry period) to appear full grown within a couple of days.
Unlike most plants, it is white and does not contain chlorophyll. Instead of generating energy from sunlight, it is parasitic, more specifically a mycoheterotroph. Its hosts are certain fungi that are mycorrhizal with trees, meaning it ultimately gets its energy from photosynthetic trees. Since it is not dependent on sunlight to grow, it can grow in very dark environments as in the understory of dense forest. It is often associated with beech trees. The complex relationship that allows this plant to grow also makes propagation difficult.
The plant is sometimes completely waxy white, but often has black flecks or pale pink coloration. Rare variants may have a deep red color.
The stems reach heights of 5–30 centimetres (2.0–11.8 in), sheathed with highly reduced leaves 5–10 millimetres (0.20–0.39 in) long, best identified as scales or bracts. These structures are small, thin, and translucent; they do not have petioles but instead extend in a sheath-like manner out of the stem. As its scientific name suggests, and unlike the related Monotropa hypopitys (but like the close relation Monotropastrum humile), the stems bear a single flower 10–20 millimetres (0.39–0.79 in) long, with 3–8 translucent petals, 10–12 stamens and a single pistil. It flowers from early summer to early autumn, often a few days after rainfall. The fruit, an oval capsule-like structure, enlarges and becomes upright when the seeds mature, at this point stem and capsule looking desiccated and dark brown or black.
M. uniflora growing in numbers at Camano Island State Park.
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- David Matthews "Indian Pipes, Ithaca NY"
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- Wickes Felter, Harvey; Uri Lloyd, John (1898). King's American dispensatory (19th 3rd rev ed.). Ohio Valley Co. p. 1277.