Indian Pipe

Monotropa uniflora

Mark Moran

Indian Pipe, also known as “Corpse Plant,” is one of the easiest plants to recognize. Unlike most plants, Indian Pipe doesn’t have chlorophyll, the stuff that makes plants green. Indian Pipe is a waxy, whitish color. It turns black when it gets old.

Indian Pipe grows only four to ten inches tall. It has flowers that droop and tiny, scale-like leaves. When they look at it, most people think Indian Pipe is a fungus.

Indian Pipe is usually seen from June to September. It grows in shady woods with rich soil and decaying plant matter. This plant is often found near dead stumps.

Copyrigh 2001, Eleanor Saulys

Charles Webber @ California Academy of Sciences

Indian Pipe has two special relationships; one with a tree, and one with a fungus. Actually, it's one relationship, where Indian Pipe takes nutrients from both the tree and the fungus at the same time.

Here's how it works: Since Indian Pipe has no chlorophyl, it can't make its own food like most plants. Therefore, it has to "borrow" nutrients, either from decaying plant matter, or from another organism. The way it does this is by having its roots tap into the mycelia (root-like threads) of a fungus. The Indian Pipe can then take nutrients directly from the fungus. Meanwhile, the fungus itself has another relationship going on with a tree. The fungus's mycelia also tap into the tree's roots. Many fungi and trees have this type of relationship -- it's called a "mycorrhizal relationship." The fungus gives nutrients to the tree and the tree gives nutrients to the fungus. Both organisms help each other out.

Indian Pipe, however, does not give anything back to the fungus or the tree. It takes nutrients from the fungus that the fungus had gotten for itself, and it also takes nutrients that the fungus had received from the tree. Since the fungus then has to take more nutrients from the tree, this makes Indian Pipe a parasite of both the fungus and the tree.

Copyright, Tom Volk,

Copyright 1995 - 2003, Keith Dawson

Indian Pipe doesn't become a parasite of every fungus and tree, only certain species. We don't know all the species yet, but we do know they use Russula mushrooms and Lactarius mushrooms. Some trees that have mycorrhizal reltionships with these mushrooms, and are used by Indian Pipe, include American Beech and pines.

Indian Pipe is a food source for small bumble bees, which visit flowers for nectar. The bees help the plant by pollinating it. Later, the plant grows tiny seeds.

Even though Indian Pipe is a beautiful plant, don't bother picking it (You shouldn't pick wildflowers anyway!!!!). It wilts and turns black very quickly.

Copyright, Jim Stasz, PLANTS

Relationships in Nature:

Animals Using as Food Source
Animals Using as Shelter
Associations with Other Plants

American Beech

Emetic Russula H

Eastern White Pine

American Beech Pa

Virginia Pine

Virginia Pine Pa

Loblolly Pine

Loblolly Pine Pa

Eastern White Pine Pa

Relationship to Humans:

Indian Pipe is a unique and interesting plant, and worth taking a close look at if you find one.



Monotropa uniflora


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