In celebration of Halloween this weekend, the Species of the Week and Floral Friday post is the Ghost Pipe – Monotropa uniflora.
I was pretty excited to spot a few plants a couple weeks ago in the Ouachita National Forest while hiking around Cedar Lake (my favorite lake!). I haven’t seen this rare plant for years! This parasitic plant completely lacks chlorophyll and relies on its relationship with fungus and, indirectly, trees for all of its nutrients. (See this link for a good description of this relationship).
In Oklahoma, we consider this plant critically imperiled. The Oklahoma Natural Heritage Inventory tracks and ranks rare plants and animals in our state. Based on their biological assessment, this species is at very high risk of extirpation in Oklahoma due to extreme rarity (often 5 or fewer populations), very steep declines, or other factors such as very steep declines.
According to our herbarium records and iNaturalist, this plant is primarily found in the far eastern side of the state. More recent data from iNaturalist is sparse, but observers have recorded it from Cherokee County and the southeastern corner. The recent iNaturalist observations also tell us that people are finding it in late September and October – just in time for Halloween!
Want to learn more?
Matt Brincka of New York State Parks wrote an excellent post detailing the biology of this parasitic plant! He also includes a poem from Emily Dickenson who said it was her favorite flower.
US Forest Service Fact Sheet
iNaturalist project – North American Vampire Plants That Prey on Fungi