You may have spotted a strange little white flower growing in dark parts of the forest—often around beech trees—and mistaken it for a fungi, but Indian Pipe (a.k.a. Ghost Pipe) is actually an amazing kind of plant.
It contains no chlorophyll so, unlike most plants, it is white or pale pink in color instead of green. Without chlorophyll, it can’t make energy from the sun through photosynthesis, so how does this “ghostly” little flower get its food? Indian Pipe is parasitic, stealing its nutrients from certain fungi that in turn have a symbiotic relationship with tree roots.
Because it doesn’t need sunlight for energy, it can often be found in very shady spots on the forest floor and its ephemeral (short) growth cycle means it only appears for brief periods, usually after a rain that breaks a longer dry spell.
With their “ghostly” pallor and “sinister” parasitic appetite, these fascinating flowers make for a great way to celebrate Halloween, don’t you think? Enjoy these five photos from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest and have a happy, spooky Halloween!
Before you mow them down or,
worse, reach for the herbicide, you might want to consider giving the
dandelions in your yard a second chance.
How They Got Here
The ubiquitous dandelions that pop up in our yards this time of year are actually native to Europe and Asia. They were brought here by European colonists who used them for medicine, food, and wine. The English name comes from the French “dent de lion” meaning “teeth of a lion” which refers to the jagged leaves.
A Useful Weed
Many people think of them as a
noxious weed but they are actually quite a useful plant. They flower earlier
than most of our native plants so they offer early pollen and nectar for
honeybees and native pollinators.
They are host plants for the
caterpillars of several moth species including the spectacular Giant Leopard
Moth. Their long tap root helps to break up the soil and move nutrients and
water throughout the soil. And dandelion greens are delicious.
This year, help out our native
pollinators and be kind to Mother Earth by forgoing any herbicides and letting
dandelions do their thing. Dandelions are an important food source for
honeybees and others throughout the spring and most herbicides are poisonous to
these insect pollinators.