Finger Lakes, FLX, Nature, NY, Upstate New York

Indian Pipe, Ghost Plant

Last summer, after a wet spell, I posted some pictures of colorful specimens of toadstools and other fungi, sprouting all over the local woods.

I also included this shot, of a strange non-fungus, “monotropa uniflora,”  called by various names like “Ghost Plant,” “Indian Pipe,” or “Ghost Pipe.”


I would not care to hear whatever dark and sinister tune might whisper out of these pale ghost pipes.

From a distance, it has a pale, porcelain prettiness, and the stems are a rather nice pink, but on closer inspection, the overall effect is of an unhealthy, repellent fleshiness.  But perhaps I’m just projecting, because of its vampirish lifestyle.

A lot of fascinating info on Tom Volk’s Fungus Web Page.


My first surprise, was to find out that it’s a herbaceous perennial plant, and somehow related to much more cheerful plants:

cranberries, rhododendrons, azaleas, and blueberries!

Seems like it would be a strained relationship.

That pale, creepy Uncle Fester we never discuss when the young blueberries are around.

Not only did we find it growing amidst the various fungi, but like them, it lacks chlorophyll.

A parasitic existence, living on fungi.

It’s host fungi, in turn, have a symbiotic relationship to trees, often beeches.

Professor Volk mentions a “one-way flow of carbohydrates,” which immediately brought an image of me in a pasta restaurant.

Given its somewhat creepy appearance, and parasitic nature, its not surprising to find another, creepy, nickname,

“Corpse Plant.”


I’ve only seen it a couple of times in my life, and was surprised to find it again, embedded in greenish glass, in the Corning Glass Museum!

This is an amazing glass creation by Paul Stankard, “Cloistered Tri-Level Botanical with Indian Pipe Flower and Spirits”

I’m sorry it’s not a better picture, I photographed it inside a glass case, which could have used a wash.  We know which visitors are making things smeary, we can identify their fingerprints.


But if you look closely, you can make out the spirits on the underside of this strange plant.



Here’s a link to a better image, on the museum website


Apparently Native Americans discovered a number of medicinal uses, including a root tea, used as a sedative and soporific.

I don’t experiment with such things, and in this case, doesn’t it look like, as a sleeping aid, it might just work a bit too well?









40 thoughts on “Indian Pipe, Ghost Plant

    • That’s an interesting question. Apparently there’s thousands of plants like this, I’m going to read more about them. So many things to learn about.
      I enjoy eating all sorts of mushrooms, but somehow have kept a bias that Plant = Healthy/Beneficial and Fungus = Unhealthy/Dangerous. But of course, there’s all those “mutualistic” nitrogen-fixing soil fungi, living on the roots of plants, etc. and of course, within our digestive tracts. So piper pipe that song again, we need to keep reminding ourselves that we have countless mutually-beneficial relationships.

    • Thank you, they do look pretty alien, don’t they? There was an old sci-fi movie, with Rod Steiger, “The Illustrated Man” and one story in it was “The Long Rain,” where the astronauts crash on Venus, where it’s always raining, and they all go nuts. I think I remember one astronaut took off his helmet and was engulfed in fungi. I didn’t really care for the movie. Maybe it was Portland, Oregon instead of Venus.

      • That was based on a short story by Ray Bradbury, who also wrote All Summer In Day, which became another haunting film about rain driving people (in this case children) mad. Maybe he grew up in Portland.

    • I’ve read articles about mushroom-hunting in the Pacific NW, and these plants require the same environment, so you’ve probably seen them more often than I have. An article about this plant indicated there are thousands of these non-chlorophyll plants, and varieties of the ghost plants grow on most continents.

  1. They look somehow so delicate and then the glass one, with the ‘beings’ underneath, reveal what we really think about these curious plants/fungi. So interesting and intriguing!

  2. This is a rather abundant patch of Indian Pipe, and what a lovely color. I usually see them only ghostly white, or black. You think these look creepy, you should see them when they are turning black! I love coming across them though. The sculpture is amazing. Thanks for sharing it.

    • I will admit, the pink color is pretty nice. Turning black would be genuinely creepy.
      It’s funny, the actual fungi or funguses, usually look “healthy” and often handsome to me.
      I’m hoping to see the Blaschka glass flowers and creatures over at Harvard soon. I’ve seen a few displayed at Corning. This artist, Paul Stankard, did an amazingly exact and lifelike job, and then added a really neat otherworldly touch.

  3. I wondered if you’d seen the Blaschka flowers yet. Lucky you, to have the chance!

    I confess I don’t find these at all creepy, although they certainly are odd. A blogger who lives in Montana has posted photos of white ones; they live in the same kind of environment as these, of course — damp, algae-and-fungus-ridden, and all that. One little detail that intrigued me is that while the flowers point straight down, the fruit eventually points straight up. More oddities.

    The “corpse flower” that I’ve seen is that huge, stinky monstrosity (Titan arum) that pops up in natural science museums, botanical gardens, and such from time to time. I think it got its name from the terrible odor, while these probably got the nickname because of their appearance.

    The addition of the spirits to the sculpture was a nice touch. They remind me of the lawn mushrooms we used to call fairy rings; we just knew there were little creatures lurking about who used them for umbrellas.

  4. I’ve always loved finding Indian pipes; it seems special. That first photo is fantastic…they took on a pretty pink tone, didn’t they? “One-way flow of carbohydrates” – too funny! I’ll have to check the links now. Thanks for including the artwork at Corning, it’s excellent – I always wanted to get up and see that museum, but never made it.

    • Corning is a bit out-of-the-way, but it’s a truly amazing museum. Glass from all around the world, and thousands of years ago. I’ve been a half-dozen times (about 60 miles from home), and don’t get tired of it.

  5. I’d go that often too if I lived in the area, it’s worth it. I have always been fascinated by glass. I did a few small sculptures – abstract – in school with glass tubing, and as kids we used to play with melting and bending glass over a little bunson burner in the basement. I love the ancient glass especially. Even though it’s the transparency of glass that appeals to me, ancient glass, with its more opaque look and natural colors, is SO beautiful.

    • The skill and artistry of the ancient glassworkers just floors me. Delicate, complicated creations from places/times like the Sasanian Empire (which personally I always have to look up who the heck that was!) and then if it’s buried in the sands for a couple of thousand years, sometimes you get really interesting chemical reactions with the metal fluxes or whatever in the glass.
      They do glass-blowing and flame-working demonstrations, and workshops, but I think even a one week intro class is $850, so that will have to wait for a higher-paying job!

      • I’d have to look it up too…you must be right about the aged finish, when it has that pearly look, or something I could call opalescent. There’s a strong glass-blowing tradition here, with Chihuly, and there are places where you can do an afternoon “experience” for a reasonable price, but I’m pretty sure they’re very formulaic – you’re not really creating, you’re following directions and making something that looks like everyone else’s little something. I hope you can take a “real” glass workshop some day.

    • You’d probably like some of the other art at the Corning museum – -you see a lot of different shades of colors, because the light goes through them, reflects, refracts, etc. They have glass mosaics from Italy, some huge, some made with pieces of glass that must be the size of a mustard seed. No seashell cave mosaics however!

  6. I always feel lucky when I come accross these in the woods of Vancouver Island. I get the same feeling from lady slippers and chocolate lilies…I think it is because they are hard to spot and not common to all areas here. Enjoyable post.

    • I had to look up chocolate lilies, didn’t know it – – beautiful! you folks have so many wonderful plants on the west coast.
      I’m working in Boston now, and have been twice to see the Blaschka glass flowers at Havard – – other than conservatories & greenhouses, a way to see wildflowers, etc. you wouldn’t otherwise get to see

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