Thursday, July 9, 2015

Dutchman's Pipe

Mark Bower sent me the picture above in a set of Indian Pipe pictures shown below.  We were thinking possibly a Corallorrhiza orchid and sent it off to our resident botanist, Linda Ellis, who responded below.
"The red one is pinesap or false beech drops (Monotropa hypopithys). Like Indian pipe, it is a  saprophytic plant that is semi-parasitic on other plant species, hence the lack of chlorophyll. These were both in the Monotropaceae family but recently got moved into Ericaceae or blueberry family."
Blueberry family!  Give me a break!  It doesn't resemble a blueberry, azalea, rhododendron or anything else in the family.  It doesn't even have chlorophyll!  Some times I think botanists have too much time on their hands! There, I got that out of my system.

Monotropa hypopitys, a.k.a. pinesap, Dutchman's pipe*, or yellow bird's-nest (the last also hard to explain) is a perennial plant. This is a wide spread but relatively uncommon species which is found throughout the US.  Lacking chlorophyll, it gets its energy from mycorrhizal fungi living on the roots of trees, not unlike the more commonly seen Indian pipe.  This is only appropriate, considering that Mark's prime field is mycological photography.  It is commonly said to be frequently found under pine trees.

While it is mycoheterotrophic (lacking chlorophyll and dependent on mycorrhizal fungus for carbon and nutrient supply) like the previously described Indian pipe, it has some significant differences.  Indian pipe has a single flower head while Dutchman's pipe has multiple flowers along what passes for a stem.  It lacks a true stem, the part emerging from the soil is actually unbranched adventitious inflorescences which are developmentally similar to adventitious roots.  Further, all parts of the plant are colored from red as above to a pale yellowish white.

Going back to the membership in the blueberry family, like our relationship to Neanderthals, science has revealed by DNA that Monotropa hypopithys is closer to the blueberries than other plant families.  When you think about it, this shouldn't be a surprise as the scientific literature is now full of articles describing other genetic surprises.  Many people having elective DNA testing are finding unsuspected Asian, African or Native American genetic contributions.  But blueberry genes, wow!

Mark Bower sent pictures of Indian Pipe in several stages.  We discussed it more fully in a previous blog.

Dutchman's Pipe - Aristolochia - Mark Bower
* Dutchman's pipe is the common name of at least three  plants.  One of these is the Aristolochia  species such as pipevine, host to the pipevine swallowtail.  It is also an alternate name for night-blooming cereus.