Indian Pipe is not a fungus. It’s a flowering plant related to Rhododendrons and blueberries, which sounds very improbable. This plant does not have chlorophyll to make its nutrients, so it lives parasitically by tapping into fungi that live in the soil (and are obtaining THEIR nutrients from tree roots, usually beech and pines). So they can grow in the dark because they don’t use the sun. And, they can’t be transplanted, because they need their connection to the underground fungus, which needs its tree roots. There is a Cherokee story that the Great Spirit was displeased with a council of elders who had quarreled with each other, and changed the old chiefs, with their bowed heads, into these flowers to remind the people to make peace. Native.
Indian Pipe, Ghost Plant, Corpse Plant (Monotropa uniflora)
The bonus picture, totally unrelated: B’s boss had been given some sweets by a friend who had just been in Paris. He was having trouble giving them away at the office! B brought them home to me. First I saw the label: Ladurée Paris! Only the world’s most famous maker of macarons! And that’s what they are!
The most exciting new wildflower discovery in a long time! A bit of shocking pink among the September leaf litter. Kudos to AF Brian for spotting it first. It’s very like Indian Pipe, but this wonderful color, and it’s rare. It’s a mycotrophic flower — it has no chlorophyll and gets its nutrition from host green plants like a fungus. But instead of being a direct parasite on the host roots, it taps into an intermediary fungus on the roots of the host. Unlike a fungus, it does flower and bear seeds. Can be 12 inches high! Native. Pyrola family.
Pinesap, Dutchman’s Pipe, False Beechdrops (Monotropa hypopithys)
Okay, I like wildflowers, but I have to admit, once you start paying attention to the fungi, they are pretty cool visually and they have interesting back stories. Look at this big fleshy thing living on the forest floor! I also confess that so many different-looking fungi are named Sulphur Shelf that I find it hard to be certain if I have this identification right. It’s not like flowers where you can count the petals and observe the leaf structure and you can (usually) get a clear-cut identification.
Sulphur Shelf, Chicken-of-the-woods (Laetiporus sulphureus)
Sometimes there’s a non-wildflower item that demands notice! In our woods, there were several of these big ruffly fungi all growing around an old tree stump (my hand added for scale). I took these July 21; now they’ve pretty much withered, darkened and disappeared. I’m finding fungus identification difficult — there are many that look similar to me, and there can apparently be lots of variation within a species. That said, I think this is a Giant Polypore — can get to be 30 inches in diameter.
Giant Polypore, Black-staining Polypore (Meripilus giganteus)
This is a case of a shockingly fast-moving invasive, Common Dodder. Last year, it was not in this location, and this year, suddenly it’s draping and strangling a fairly large area — very striking. It looks like a great load of angelhair pasta ladled out on the landscape. But if you look closely, it’s twined tightly around the stems of the host plants.
The first thing we noticed about it is that it has no leaves, and at first, no flowers — just a thin yellow vine. They’re annuals that grow from seeds every year. The seed germinates in the spring and must find a host. The seedlings find a host by slowly waving their stems in a clockwise direction until they feel a plant to grab! They twine on and have specialized “roots” that digest their way through the host’s stem and establish a vascular system between the two plants so that the dodder can suck its nutrition right out of the host (since dodder has basically no chlorophyll and no roots that go into the ground for feeding itself). When the connection with the host is established, the lower part of the dodder dies and there is no connection with the ground at all. And it grows and grabs other nearby plants, usually not killing them but weakening them.
In summer, they put on tiny white flowers and then fruits containing seeds which can lay dormant for up to 5 years, waiting for the right time to pop! The seeds in the ground appear to wait if a good host (they have preferences) is not nearby. (What!?) It’s on the USDA’s list of 10 most problematic weeds.
Alert Flowerophile Donna has contacted the trails commission to let them know (and I did too). We hope they come collect it out of there because it has made such inroads in only one year, I would hate to see the long-term effect on this field full of so many wildflower varieties. Destroy!
Dodder, Hellbind, Goldthread, Stranglevine, Angel’s Hair, Witch’s Shoelaces (Cuscuta gronovii)