Monotropa uniflora (Ghost plant, Ghost pipe, Indian Pipe)
Wildflowers might seem to resonate with bright summers, open meadows, beautiful finds in a woodland, many vivid colors and pretty pollinators. Even ephemeral, transient, seasonal, dainty and delicate resonate well with the woods, but thieves in the woodland? Oh my! Mycotrophic wildflowers are quite the sneaky wildflower thieves one can find in a woodland. Two such myco thieves were spotted at London town, the 'Ghost Pipe' flower (Monotropa uniflora) and 'WinterGreen' (Pyrola picta).
Pyrola plants are also referred to as ‘Mixotrophs’ they make some of their food and steal some of their food. Pyrola (Wintergreen) is a dainty little woodland thief!
'Myco' means fungus and 'trophic' means nutrition. Some wildflowers have the ability to take nutrition from the nearby trees and survive. But they aren't fungus, it is a plant, just acting like a fungus. The 'Ghost plant' for one is the spookiest wildflower and a very uncommon one. It is pale white, growing closer to the leaf litter of the woodland floor with sneaky little roots, deriving all its nutrients from the nearby mycorrhizal fungus that is also stealing from the nearby trees. Double sneaky! Mycotrophic plants are said to be 'epi-parasites'!
Pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule) is an epiphyte offering a symbiotic relationship with fungus. The fungus aids the pink slipper seeds with nutrition and when the plant grows, the fungus draws nutrition back from the plant.
"To most of us, green and plant go together like peanut butter and jelly on a sandwich. Green plants, since they make their own food from sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide, are called autotrophs, meaning 'self-feeding.' However, there are plants that are not green and having no chlorophyll, cannot make their own food (organic carbon). These plants are called heterotrophs, meaning 'other-feeding,' since they must get their nutrition from other organisms.
"The second of these two groups are mycotrophic ('fungus feeding') plants. These plants obtain their organic carbon from a host green plant by tapping into an intermediary mycorrhizal fungus attached to the roots of the host plant. Since they cannot make their own 'food,' the mysterious mycotrophic wildflowers take this symbiotic relationship between tree and fungus one-step further. Mycotrophic plants 'tap' into and parasitize the hyphae of a mycorrhizal fungus by reversing the flow of carbon (derived from the host tree) and other nutrients to meet their survival needs. The unlucky fungus 'feeds' the parasitic wildflower and receives nothing in return. Some people have even referred to this 3-way relationship as 'mutualism gone badly!' For this reason, the myco-heterotrophs are often said to be 'epiparasitic' on other plants." https://www.fs.fed.us/.../mycotrophic/whatarethey.shtml
"Thieves from the Heath" “Mr. Conifer, Mr. Conifer. We've been robbed!” “Calm down Abies, what do you mean we've been robbed.” “Mr. Conifer we just got a call from the warehouse and they are reporting that two pallets of food stuffs are missing!” “When did this brazen theft happen, Abies?” “It happened in the dark of the night Mr. Conifer. It looks like the work of Thieves from the Heath; probably the Snow Plant Gang.” “Oh no, not Sarcodes and his den of thieves!” - https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/beauty/mycotrophic/index.shtml
London Town woodlands are truly filled with awe! From wild orchids, trilliums, trout lilies, twin leaf, and rue anemone to unique monotropic plants, there is always one plant that leaves us in awe of the woods and the ephemeral beauty they add to the grounds. Next time you walk in the woodland garden, watch your step and check around the base of the leaf little 'myco' thieves might be sneaking around the woods!