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Tuesday, February 15, 2011


This unusual plant has no chlorophyll, so is not green. It therefore cannot make its own food, and is a parasite having a relationship with a fungus and a tree. It takes nutrients from both and so is found under American beech and pines along with types of mushrooms which include the Russula and Lactarius mushrooms. Its roots tap into the mycelia (thread-like roots of the mushroom) and so take nutrients from it. The mushroom takes its nutrient from the tree which also takes nutrients from the mushroom. In other words, Monotropa uniflora is a parasite, or Mycorrhizal plant. It lives where there is decaying organic matter and can often be found close to tree stumps.
   It is native to North America and the Himalayas, Japan and parts of temperate Europe. Despite its appearance it is not a fungus. Its flowers are white, but in rare cases can be pink. Only one flower grows on each stem, and these have no fragrance, although they do have nectar which bees collect, so pollinating the plants. They flower for about a week and then die, turning black as they do so, hence the name Corpse Plant. They are very tender and succulent, but when picked will melt away and dissolve. If you pick it then it will also turn black.
   The flower is shaped like a pipe bowl and so it got its name, the Indian pipe plant, although it is also known as the Dutchman’s pipe. It looks like a calumet, the Native Americans’ pipe of peace. They used it for eye problems and pounded the roots and mixed them with water for eye lotion. White doctors used this remedy, but used rose water to mix the pounded roots with. You should gather the roots between September and October and dry them carefully then pound them to a powder which should be stored in airtight containers.
   The Indian Pipe Plant has been used by the Native Americans for various ailments, as a diaphoretic to promote sweat in fevers, a nerve tonic for restlessness and nervous disorders, as a sedative (it has much the same effect as opium but without the narcotic-induced dreams or hallucinations), and as a way of stopping epileptic fits. It is said to be extremely good at doing this which is why one of its names is Fit-Plant. The juice of the plant has been used in injections for gonorrhea and is said to be efficacious in treating inflammation and ulceration of the bladder in the form of a douche when mixed with rose water. The flowers can be chewed to relieve toothache, and a tisane can be made with the plant to help with colds and flu. You can also crush the plant on corns and bunions to ease inflammation and to eventually get rid of them.
   However, first of all you have to find this shy woodland plant, as it is even more difficult to find than the violet.


  1. I'm amazed that you think these plants have no fragrance. The only way I've ever found them is by first detecting their strikingly beautiful aroma. Maybe the species we have here in Northwest Louisiana pine forests is different from the one you are familiar with.

  2. how do you take it for a tooth ache just pop it in your mouth and chew or mix it with anything?

  3. I'm holding one in my hand right now... the flower almost smells like peanut butter.

  4. I live in Alberta just a few minutes West of Edmonton. We have lots of this plant growing on our acreage...must have just the right conditions.

  5. Here in WI I've never noticed any scent to them...I had kind of hoped that such an unusual wildflower would have a scent.

  6. I was amazed to find these on my hillside in southwest Wisconsin! I have lived here for many years and have never come across them. The variety I found does not have a scent and are white. Learn something new every day!


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