|Indian pipe gets that name from its shape;|
it's also called ghost flower
and corpse plant.
Photo from wildplantdatabase.net
"Am I supposed to know what that is?" he asked in a friendly way, finally tipping me off to the fact that he might think me a bit odd. I'm just glad he didn't back away slowly while keeping a close eye on me.
Just in case it's new to you, let me share a bit about this weird wildflower. First off, it's white coloration resembles mushroom more than wildflower, but flower it is. Obviously it lacks chlorophyl, but it has to get nutrients from somewhere--it's mooching off the trees around it. But not directly. Instead, it uses an intermediary fungus to access the nutrients that the tree manufactures.
The underground fungus, which takes the form of long delicate threads, hooks up with the Indian pipe and also intertwines the fine rootlets of the tree. Both the fungus and the tree benefit from their association, which is known as a mycorrhizal relationship. The fungus helps the tree's rootlets soak up water and nutrients, while the tree passes food it creates via photosynthesis to the fungus--and thereby on to the parasitic Indian pipe. Neither the tree nor the fungus benefits from its connection to the wildflower, but the Indian pipe cannot survive without both of them.
While you're out in the woods, keep a eye out for the funny little white plants rising from the duff.
And please, should you ever come across me in some forest and I greet you in a seemingly nonsensical manner, just put out your hand and say, "Pleased to meet you, Pat."
Have you ever met Indian pipe in the woods?