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Vampires of the plant world

Ghost Pipe 2

At this time of the year, I am desperately searching for ANY sign of spring. Green sprouts thrusting up through the cold soil are a long-awaited sight. But not all leaves flaunt that distinctive color. Most do. I’m sure you learned in science class that the typical plant makes its own food with chlorophyll, which is green; hence, foliage is, too. (I distinctly remember teaching this to you, right after I confiscated the open novel you were sneaking glimpses of.) But what about the Monotropa uniflora in the picture above (taken last August)? Yes, that’s a plant, not a type of mushroom. It’s called Ghost Pipe, Ghost Flower, Ghost Plant, Corpse Plant, and Ice Plant—for obvious reasons—but I propose one more name for it. How does the Vampire Flower sound?

Vampires shun the sun and suck human blood. The Ghost Flower does the plant equivalent: it lives in shady forests and steals sugar from fungi that are, in turn, taking it from tree roots. But the Corpse Plant isn’t exactly a hero. That mycorrhizal fungus pays its host back by trading other favors. The Ghost Pipe doesn’t. At all.

And yet… before you scout out the nearest Monotropa to stick a stake into its roots, it’s not all bad. Native Americans once eased toothaches and healed stubborn sores with this plant. But please do not experiment with it unless you’re an expert because it is poisonous if used incorrectly. You don’t want to end as a victim of… the Vampire Flower.

To learn more about Monotropa uniflora, check out

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