Ghost Flowers

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Published on: Sep. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

Taxonomically speaking, the plant is Monotropa uniflora, a member of the wintergreen family. In terms of its lifestyle, Indian pipe is a "saprophyte," a plant that draws nourishment from decaying material.

But all that doesn't tell you anything of the wonder a hunter, hiker or nature photographer experiences when this floral apparition floats into view atop a sea of dry leaves in early autumn.

Ghost flowers are pure white when they first sprout. As they age, they slowly turn from pink to lilac and finally put on raven black, as if to mourn their own demise.

They grow from Newfoundland and Alaska south, all the way into Central America and in Asia. You can find them in dry oak and maple woods throughout most of Missouri. They usually appear in small, isolated clumps, but they may be locally abundant in moist years.

Like other uncommonly beautiful wildflowers, Indian pipes should be left in place so they can continue to grow and delight other outdoor enthusiasts.

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