Yellow bird’s nest is a curious plant as it has no chlorophyll, but produces flowers, from one to eleven on a single stalk. It grows throughout the world although it is so small as to be difficult to spot. In the
UK and Ireland it is an endangered species and there are moves to protect it. It was formerly called Monotropa Hypopitys, but it is now in a genus of its own, having two subspecies, and is a member of the large Ericaeae family.
It is endangered in
Florida and threatened in Iowa, but is thriving in Pakistan and grows in Japan other countries in Asia and throughout Europe. It looks a little like the Indian Pipe or Ghost plant, Monotropa uniflora, which is native to North America, and it is closely related. As a member of the larger Ericaceae family it is related to cranberries, blueberries, bilberries, huckleberries, azaleas, rhododendron, heather, and the strawberry tree to name but a few of its relatives.
pine sap as it is frequently found growing under pines, and this gave rise to another English name for the plant, Pinesap.
Its genus name Hypopitys comes from the Greek hypos meaning ‘under’ and pitys pine. Monotropa means once-turned.
The plant that grows in spring is yellow, (or at least, creamy yellow-white) hence the name yellow bird’s nest, but the one that grows in autumn is coral pink through to red. Now these have been divided into two sub-species, although formerly they were classed as the same plant.
The Yellow Bird’s Nests or Pinesaps produce oil similar to that of the wintergreens, which can be easily converted into methyl salicylate, used in flavouring mouthwash, sweets and chewing gum. However it is lethal if taken in large doses. Apart from the wintergreens, the birch tree also produces the same substance. Most of the oil (Oleum Gaultheria) is marketed as oil of wintergreen and is a counter-irritant which gives relief to those who suffer with muscular pain.
The oil has also been used for intermittent fevers and is used to disguise the taste of other medicines.
If you happen to find one of these plants, remember that it is a protected species and don’t move it.
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