the ghost in the forest
producing seed

Indian pipes are white or bluish-white (rarely pink or red), almost leafless plants bearing a single five-petaled flower that, when young, faces the earth. The shape of the plant resembles a clay pipe whose stem has been stuck in the earth, and the flower is not unlike the bowl. This albino of the flowering plant world is, surprisingly, somewhat closely related to the dogwoods, heaths, and even the evergreen laurels and rhododendrons. However, to look at its almost leafless white stalk and its plain white fleshy flower, one would be hard pressed to imagine similarities with those of chlorophyllous plants.

Scientists call it Monotropa uniflora, meaning "once-turned'' and "single-flowered.'' "Once-turned'' refers to the fact that the flowers, which face the ground early in their life, turn straight upward once they begin producing seeds (though you'd think the plant would be straight first and bent second, in order to spill out the seeds). Monotropa is in turn a member of the Wintergreen family (Pyrolaceae), a small clan of only 10 genera in North American

The Indian pipe is a member of a tiny clan of only three or four species. Only it and pinesap are found in North America; another inhabits such far-away places as Japan and the Himalayas -- where our own Indian pipe may also be found. Another, called bird's nest, is found in Britain and Europe. Indian pipes are one of our few native wildflowers that might be called transcontinental, too, for they may be found from Maine to Florida, and from Washington to California, right down to and into Mexico. They also range across southern Canada and into Alaska. In most areas they appear in mid-summer.

Its use as a medicine, first by American Indians and later by the white man, has earned it other names. Indians employed it as an eye lotion -- whence the name, eyebright -- as well as for colds and fevers. Americans of the last century treated spasms, fainting spells, and nervous conditions with it -- thus, the names convulsionroot, fitroot, and convulsionweed. Mixed with fennel, it was once also used as a douche.