These Vampiric “Ghost Plants” Will Haunt Your Dreams

It’s late at night.  You’re hurrying back to camp along a forest path, your flashlight beam consumed by the impenetrable dark.

Suddenly, there’s a flash of unnatural white.

A pang of fear.

You stop in your tracks.

Could it be…?

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Eeeep!

A Ghost Plant!!  Wooooooooooooooooowoooo

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Monotropa uniflora is real.  Its common names include “ghost plant”, “ghost flower”, “corpse plant”, and “Indian pipe.”

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Photo credit to yours truly, ~The Plant Humorist, Certified GHOST HUNTER, Esq.~

Here are some extra-spooky facts about Monotropa uniflora:

The ghost plant is a vampire!

Monotropa sucks its lifeblood, carbon and nutrients, out of trees.  Botanists previously mislabeled the plant as a “saprophyte”, an organism that lives on dead and decaying matter, but that is untrue. The ghost plant feasts on living flesh!

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Innocent flowers?  Or gaping, ravenous jaws?

The ghost plant outwits its victims!

Rather than digging into its host plant directly, the ghost plant exploits a symbiotic relationship called a mycorrhiza.  In a typical mycorrhiza, a plant trades carbon to a fungus in exchange for hard-to-reach nutrients.  Craftily, the ghost plant attaches to the fungus’ hyphae underground and sucks both carbon and nutrients out of the system.

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The ghost plant is pale and smooth! 

Because Monotropa preys on other plants for food, it has lost the large, green leaves that other plants require for photosynthesis.  It is pallid because it doesn’t produce chlorophyll, and smooth because its leaves have been reduced to scales.

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The ghost plant doesn’t need to breathe!

It lacks stomata, the pores that allow gas exchange during photosynthesis.

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The ghost plant sparkles in the sunlight!

Lol, just kidding about this one.  It’s kinda waxy though.

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The ghost plant almost never sees the light of day!

Ghost plants do not require sunlight.  They can survive in the dark, shadowy understory of dense forests.

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Monotropa uniflora has a wide-ranging distribution throughout North America, Central America and Asia.  You cannot hide from the ghost plant!

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A massive patch in the Adirondacks, spotted by yours truly, Ghost Hunter Extraordinaire, Purveyor of Pallid Plants, Botanist of the Supernatural, Esq., pre-PhD., etc.

 

So Happy Halloween, from Plant Humor!  Hope you’ve been thoroughly ~spooked~!

 

Sources & Further Reading

Leake, J.R. 1994.  Tansley Review No. 69: The Biology of Myco-Heterotrophic (‘Saprohphytic’) Plants.  The New Phytologist 127.2: 171-216.

Young, B.W., Massicotte, H.B., Tackaberry, L.E., Baldwin, Q.F., Egger, K.N.  2002.  Monotropa uniflora: morphological and molecular assessment of mycorrhizae retrieved from sites in the Sub-Boreal Spruce biogeoclimatic zone in central British Columbia.  Mycorrhiza 12: 75-82.

 

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