Foliage Friday: Ghost Plant

In honor of Halloween, today’s Foliage Friday is the Monotropa uniflora, aka ghost plant, corpse plant, or Indian pipe.

Image from: fs.fed.us

I’ve seen this plant while mushroom hunting in forests just outside of Seattle. It’s a little bizarre looking, and seems like it should be some kind of mushroom, but it’s not. It’s a plant – a vascular flowering plant (aka angiosperm). It has flower per stem (which is how it gets the moniker uniflora). Unlike most angiosperms, however, it lacks chlorophyll, which is why it looks ghostly white…. spooooOOOooooky….

Without chlorophyll, Monotropa uniflora obviously can’t photosynthesize, so how do they get their energy? They are a mycoheterotrophic plant – myco- means fungus and a heterotroph is an organism that can’t make it’s own food (humans are also heterotrophs, plants that photosynthesize are autotrophs.) Monotropa uniflora gets its energy from mushrooms.

Mycorrhizal fungi, which live in the soil near tree roots, get nutrients (primarily sugars) from trees, which in turn, get their energy from the sun via photosynthesis. In return, the fungi provide the trees with certain nutrients (like phosphorous) that the fungi harvest from the soil. This is a symbiotic relationship.

Image from: wikipedia

Monoflora unitropa also has a relationship with the mycorrhizal fungi, but rather than exchanging nutrients with the fungi, Monflora unitropa steals sugars, but doesn’t seem to give anything back. So rather than “ghost plant” or “corpse plant,” I think they deserve the name Vampire Plant…..

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