Now that our outdoors are covered in white I thought it would be nice to post a splash of color to liven up the winter months. However, when looking through my plant images I noticed this picture of a clump of Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora) in the mix. Somehow their lack of color seemed appropriate for the time of year – and fascinating too. Lack of color in plants translates into a lack of chlorophyl, the pigments and associated cellular complexes that allow green plants to photosynthesize & turn solar energy into living matter, thus fueling all other life on our planet. Indian Pipes obviously are still capable of growing, but they get their energy from sources other than the sun.
These plants are considered saprophytes, organisms that utilize specific fungi to break down dead organic matter (such as leaf litter and compost) and obtain their nutrients that way. Note that these are not parasitic plants; they don’t ‘steal’ nutrients from plants by tapping into the root systems of trees and other vegetation. So, even though they are not showy, these unusual creatures do show off their fascinating and unique ways of contributing to our forest ecosystems by tapping into underutilized resources.