Finding a Ghost in the Woods
Monotropa uniflora, or Indian pipe, is high on my list of favorite native plants – mostly because it looks nothing like a typical wildflower. Often found in mature, moist, forests, Indian pipe feature a single, drooping flower and are entirely white, hence their other common name, the ghost plant. Their absence of color comes from a lack of chlorophyll, the pigment that gives plants their typical green hue and ability to convert sunlight into food. To obtain the food they need to thrive, ghost plants parasitize mycorrhizae – the hair-like fungus located on many roots – and the green plant that serves as the fungus’ host. Sound complicated? It is, but the outcome is simple: the fungus feeds the ghost plant and survival wins. Three cheers for ingenuity and adaptation!
So many interesting relationships like this exist in nature, especially in the Adirondacks. Our native orchids and trillium, for example, rely on specialized interactions with fungi, trees, plants, and/or pollinators just to survive in our unique landscape. Conserving privately-owned lands, limiting development of important, natural habitats, and managing them wisely is critical to protecting the species we treasure so dearly.
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