Monday, December 23, 2013

Indian Pipe

Indian pipe- RKipfer
 One of the joys of mushroom forays are the "by-catch" of the forest floor including insects, wilfdlowers and orchids.  The plant above is frequently mistaken for another mushroom, and indeed it does have its roots in mycology.

Mature Indian pipe- Chris Wagner
This is Indian pipe, Monotropa uniflora, sometimes referred to as the ghost or corpse plant, an uncommon plant of the forest floor.  The scale like leaves are visible along the stalk as is the single flower head, thus uniflora.  The Monotropa family has five species of herbaceous perennial plants, (herbaceous= lose their leaves and stems to ground lever each growing season, perennial= live for two or more seasons).  The flowers remain pure white until they are fertilized when they turn pale pink.  As it matures it will stop drooping and stand straight up.*

Pink variant-Mark Bower
It is usually pure white but may be a light pink with black spots.  Since it is totally lacking in chlorophyll and has no need for sunlight, it is usually found in deeply shaded leaf litter.  Its nutrition comes from parasitism of mycorrhizal fungi that are associated with the roots of trees.  These fungi contribute moisture and minerals to tree roots in trade for its energy of photosynthesis, so the Indian pipe is indirectly dependent on the plants themselves.

Russula sp.
Lactarius maculatipes- Mark Bower

Indian pipe only grows on fungi rhizomes of the Russulaceae family.  For the budding mycologists, these have chalk-like stems that break like a soft carrot.  The two common genera are the Russula and the Lactarius.  The Russula  are distinctive enough that even I can usually identify them by their large, brightly colored caps, frequently red, and their white free gills that are brittle.  Lactarius, as the name suggests, have a milky sap along their broken gills.

Tom Volk has a good discussion of mycoheterotrophc plants (lack chlorophyll and depend on their mycorrhizal fungus for carbon and nutrient supply).

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