Monotropa uniflora

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Monotropa uniflora
Indian pipe PDB.JPG
Growing in the
Redwood National Forest
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Ericales
Family: Ericaceae
Genus: Monotropa
M. uniflora
Binomial name
Monotropa uniflora

Monotropa uniflora, also known as ghost plant, ghost pipe, or Indian pipe, is an herbaceous perennial plant native to temperate regions of Asia, North America, and northern South America, but with large gaps between areas.[1][2] The plant is sometimes completely waxy white, but often has black flecks or pale pink coloration.[3] Rare variants may have a deep red color. The name "Monotropa" is Greek for "one turn" and "uniflora" is Latin for "one flowered" as there is one sharply curved stem for each single flower.


The stems reach heights of 5–30 centimetres (2–12 in), sheathed with highly reduced leaves 5–10 millimetres (31638 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 mm (381316 in) long, with 3–8 translucent petals, 10–12 stamens and a single pistil.[4][5][6][7] 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.

The seeds of M. uniflora are small, ranging between 0.6–0.8 mm (3128132 in) in length.[8]

Unlike most plants, it is white and does not contain chlorophyll.[9] Instead of generating food using the energy from sunlight, it is parasitic, and more specifically a mycoheterotroph. Its hosts are certain fungi[9] that are mycorrhizal with trees, meaning it ultimately gets its food 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.[10] The complex relationship that allows this plant to grow also makes propagation difficult.


M. uniflora is found in three general distribution areas: Asia, North America, and Central and northern South America. DNA analysis has shown that these three populations are genetically distinct from one another.[1] Furthermore, the North American population and the Central/South American population appear to be more closely related to each other than either are related to the Asian population.

The species has 48 chromosomes.[11]


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.


The flowers of M. uniflora are visited by various bee and fly species, most commonly bumblebees.[12] Bumblebees are an important pollen dispersal agent for the plant.

Like most mycoheterotrophic plants, M. uniflora associates with a small range of fungal hosts, all of them members of Russulaceae.[13]

It is often associated with beech trees.[10]


The plant contains glycosides and may be toxic to humans.[14]


In addition to various reported medical uses,[14] the plant has been used as an anxiolytic in herbal medicine since the late 19th century.[15]

Despite possibly being toxic, the entire plant can be cooked, which lends it an asparagus-like flavor.[14]



  1. ^ a b Neyland, Ray; Hennigan, Melissa K. (2004). "A Cladistic analysis of Monotropa uniflora (Ericaceae) inferred from large ribosomal subunit (26S) rRNA gene sequences". Castanea. 69 (4): 265–271. doi:10.2179/0008-7475(2004)069<0265:ACAOMU>2.0.CO;2.
  2. ^ Sullivan, Steven. K. (2018). "Monotropa uniflora". Wildflower Search. Retrieved 2018-08-19.
  3. ^ David Matthews "Indian Pipes, Ithaca NY" Archived 2012-09-05 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Klinkenberg, Brian, ed. (2017). "Monotropa uniflora". E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Plants of British Columbia []. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Retrieved 2018-08-19.
  5. ^ Giblin, David, ed. (2018). "Monotropa uniflora". WTU Herbarium Image Collection. Burke Museum, University of Washington. Retrieved 2018-08-19.
  6. ^ "Monotropa uniflora". in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora. Jepson Herbarium; University of California, Berkeley. 2018. Retrieved 2018-08-19.
  7. ^ "Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora) Species Page". Retrieved 2018-07-06.
  8. ^ Olson, A. Randall (July 1980). "Seed Morphology of Monotropa Uniflora L. (Ericaceae)". American Journal of Botany. 67 (6): 968–974. doi:10.1002/j.1537-2197.1980.tb07728.x. ISSN 0002-9122.
  9. ^ a b Fagan, Damian (2019). Wildflowers of Oregon: A Field Guide to Over 400 Wildflowers, Trees, and Shrubs of the Coast, Cascades, and High Desert. Guilford, CT: FalconGuides. p. 45. ISBN 978-1-4930-3633-2. OCLC 1073035766.
  10. ^ a b "Indian Pipe".
  11. ^ Maloney, Kathleen; Finocchio, Alfred F. (1981-11-01). "Chromosomes of Monotropa uniflora". Journal of Heredity. 72 (6): 458. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.jhered.a109563. ISSN 0022-1503.
  12. ^ Klooster, Matthew R.; Culley, Theresa M. (2009). "Comparative analysis of the reproductive ecology of Monotropa and Monotropsis: Two mycoheterotrophic genera in the Monotropoideae (Ericaceae)". American Journal of Botany. 96 (7): 1337–1347. doi:10.3732/ajb.0800319. ISSN 1537-2197. PMID 21628282.
  13. ^ Yang, S.; Pfister, D. H. (2006). "Monotropa uniflora plants of eastern Massachusetts form mycorrhizae with a diversity of russulacean fungi". Mycologia. 98 (4): 535–540. doi:10.3852/mycologia.98.4.535. PMID 17139846.
  14. ^ a b c "Monotropa uniflora Indian Pipe". Plants for a Future. Retrieved 2022-08-13.
  15. ^ Wickes Felter, Harvey; Uri Lloyd, John (1898). King's American dispensatory (19th 3rd rev ed.). Ohio Valley Co. p. 1277.

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