Indian Pipes (Monotropa uniflora)

by Michael Kuo

This fascinating plant occurs across North America, and is often mistaken for a fungus. It seems to be particularly common in eastern North America, and in the summer months I receive many "What's this mushroom?" e-mails that describe or depict Monotropa uniflora.

Until recently, botanists believed that Indian Pipes were saprophytes, subsisting on dead or decaying organic material. Recent investigations, however, have revealed that Monotropa uniflora is actually parasitic on a fungus that is in a "mycorrhizal" relationship with a tree. The fungus and the tree are exchanging nutrients in a mutually beneficial relationship; the Indian Pipes have duped the fungus into "believing" it is in a second mycorrhizal relationship--but in reality the fungus gets nothing out of the deal, and is being parasitized by Monotropa uniflora. Chlorophyll is not involved in the process, which accounts for the plant's ghostly colors.

Indian Pipes are easily recognized by comparison to photos (a strategy that doesn't often work in mushroom identification). The plant's parts bruise blackish upon handling, and it emits a clear, jelly-like substance when injured.

This website contains no information about edibility or toxicity.


Indian Pipes

Indian Pipes

© MushroomExpert.Com

Cite this page as:

Kuo, M. (2004, September). Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora). Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: