Indian Pipe

Ericaceae (heaths)

A perennial wildflower lacking chlorophyll and therefore white (sometimes pinkish). Sometimes misidentified as a mushroom. Usually grows in small clusters. Flowers arise singly on a white, scaly stem, urn-shaped, nodding, with 4 or 5 petals and no sepals. Flowers are white, turning purple and later black. As seeds ripen the downturned flower gradually turns upright. Blooms August–October. Leaves absent, replaced by scales on the floral stem.

Height: to 8 inches.
Habitat and conservation: 
Occurs in humus-rich bottomland forests and moist to dry upland forests, mainly in oak-hickory forests. Unlike most plants, Indian pipe lacks chlorophyll, so it is white, not green. Belowground, its roots join with fungi that join with tree roots. This plant thus takes nourishment indirectly from the trees. Because of its complicated method of obtaining nourishment, this flower rarely survives transplanting, so take pictures, not plants, from the wild.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Scattered nearly statewide but nowhere common.
Human connections: 
Organisms like Indian pipe — also called ghost plant and corpse plant — strike us as bizarre and cause us to halt, kneel and take a closer look. They fill us with wonder and pique our curiosity. They train us to keep looking for wonderful things.
Ecosystem connections: 
The fungi associated with Indian pipes are in the family Russulaceae, a group that includes the brittlegills and milky caps. Like many other fungi, they join with tree roots, and both tree and fungus benefit: The fungus gets food from the tree while expanding the tree's absorption network.