Indian pipes

My posting on Aristolochia, a genus that includes plants commonly known as Dutchman’s pipe and pipevine, reminded me of another pipe plant, the bizarre Indian pipe:

From Wikipedia:

Monotropa uniflora, also known as the ghost plant, Indian pipe, or corpse plant is a herbaceous perennial plant, formerly classified in the family Monotropaceae, but now included within the Ericaceae. It is native to temperate regions of Asia, North America and northern South America, but with large gaps between areas. It is generally scarce or rare in occurrence.

Unlike most plants, it is white and does not contain chlorophyll. Instead of generating energy from sunlight, it is parasitic, more specifically a myco-heterotroph. Its hosts are certain fungi that are mycorrhizal with trees, meaning it ultimately gets its energy from photosynthetic trees. Since it is not dependent on sunlight to grow, it can grow in very dark environments as in the understory of dense forest. It is often associated with beech trees The complex relationship that allows this plant to grow also makes propagation difficult.

Indian pipes grew in the woods near the house I gew up in and in the woods at the summer camp I went to. They’re cool to look at: they have most of the ordinary plant parts (they flower and produce pollen), though with much reduced leaves. There’s no point in picking them, because away from their fungi they wither and turn black almost immediately.

On the etymology of Monotropa, from OED3 (Dec. 2002):

< scientific Latin Monotropa (Linnaeus Genera Plantarum (1737) 111) < ancient Greek μονότροπος living alone, solitary ( < μονο- mono- comb. form + τρόπος turn, direction, way … )

(Uniflora is obviousy ‘single-flowered’, that is, having, one flower per stem.) Mono- is the familiar ‘one’ element from Greek. On trop-, from Michael Quinion’s affixes site:

Words in -trope are nouns for organisms or objects that exhibit some characteristic whose abstract name ends in -tropism or -tropy, or for which an adjective exists in -tropic. An allotrope is one of two or more different physical forms in which an element can exist, an instance of allotropy; an isotrope (Greek isos, equal) is a substance that is isotropic, having the same composition in every direction; a phototrope is a plant that exhibits phototropism, growth or movement in response to light.

Heliotrope (Greek hēlios, sun) is now the name of a purple-flowered plant, but the term was once applied to various plants whose flowers turn towards the sun, a phenomenon called heliotropism; a lipotrope (Greek lipos, fat) is a substance that has an affinity for lipids and thus prevents excess fat from accumulating in the liver.

The ending also appears in a few names for nineteenth century scientific toys, in which the ending has the literal sense of ‘turning’: thaumatrope (Greek thauma, marvel), a disc with pictures on its sides, which appear to combine into one when the disc is spun; zoetrope (Greek zōē, life), a cylinder with a series of pictures on the inner surface that give an impression of continuous motion when viewed through slits with the cylinder rotating.

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