White Indian pipes, mycorrhizae, and a golden flower
I do occasionally tear myself away from the farmden. So into the woods I went last Friday and as I was hiking along and glancing down at the trail, I came upon one of my favorite flowers. It’s a favorite not for its beauty but for what it hints at of goings-on beneath the soil surface.
The flower was indian pipes, Monotropa uniflora, an eerily white plant that looks like a upright tobacco pipe whose stem has been poked into the ground. Yes, it’s white. All white. You might rightly wonder how the plant synthesizes carbohydrates for energy and for structure. Photosynthesis, which makes carbohydrates, requires chlorophyll, which is green. Indian pipes don’t need chlorophyll because they get their carbohydrates from neighboring trees.
Join me while I go below ground. Stopping for a look at the roots of indian pipes, we see that they …