"Pale, mournful flower, that hidest in shade
I have always wanted to see this mysterious-looking wildflower, but never came across it in my ramblings here. So, I was thrilled when I finally saw it for the first time when walking through the Haunted Wood at Green Gables last summer, and then again in the woods near the Hopewell Rocks a few days later! I'm afraid some people thought I was a bit eccentric when I stopped short on the crowded to trail to photograph them, though! 😁
This truly unique flower is often mistaken for a fungus, but it is in fact an herbaceous perennial in the Ericaceae family (which also includes the Rhododendron, Azalea, Blueberry, Cranberry, Huckleberry, and Heather)! It lacks chlorophyll and therefore is not dependent on sunlight to thrive, so it can often be found in very dark, dense forests. The plant is actually a parasite, deriving its nourishment from certain fungi, which in turn derive theirs from the trees (I hope I'm explaining that right!). It is native to North America, northern South America, and Asia, and is of ephemeral occurrence, blooming anytime from June to September.
The Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora) is also commonly known as the Ghost or Corpse Plant, One-Flowered Wax Plant, American Ice Plant, Convulsion Root, and (my favorite!), Wood Snowdrop. The genus name Monotropa comes from the Greek monos, 'one', and tropos, 'direction', in reference to the flowers, which turn to one side. And of course, uniflora simply means one-flowered!
I was quite surprised to learn that this plant is actually used as a substitute for opium, but without its adverse effects! Apparently, it acts in a very unusual way, actually raising the patient's ability to deal with the pain, rather than making it go away. It is said to work the same way for emotional pain as well. This is a very interesting article, if you want to learn more: American Herbalists Guild: A Little Known Nervine.
This flower was one of Emily Dickinson's favorites. In 1882, after Mabel Todd presented her with a painting she had done of some Indian Pipes, Emily wrote ecstatically, "That without suspecting it you should send me the preferred flower of life, seems almost supernatural…I still cherish the clutch with which I bore it from the ground when a wondering child, and unearthly booty, and maturity only enhances the mystery, never decreases it.” After Emily's death, Mabel Todd published a volume of her poems, and chose this flower to adorn the cover.
I am still hopeful that I will come across the Indian Pipe in our woods someday. Since it requires just the right conditions (wet weather after a dry spell) and then grows up and fades so quickly, maybe I have just missed it so far. Have you ever come across them?
I'm joining Clay and Limestone today for Wildflower Wednesday!
I am a passionate gardener and seed-saver, who also enjoys playing the violin and accordion, running, spending time with my 4 golden retrievers, keeping chickens, photography, and reading.