Saturday, September 29, 2012

Pinesap (Monotropa hypopithys)

September 1st, 2012. It was the Labor Day (US) holiday weekend so we took the opportunity to make an overnight trip into the Chattahoochee National Forest. Our first stop was a side trip down to Dockery Lake in the Chestatee Wildlife Management Area. We found interesting wildflowers and fungi along the road down to the lake and by the road near the lake.

As we drove along the level section of road before the climb back up to the highway, we spotted a nice specimen of coral fungus standing in an open area covered with fallen leaves. It begged to be photographed so I hopped out and made my way towards it. As I got near, I became aware of something else of interest; it was one of those ‘I think you’re going to want to see this’ moments. I’d found a small stand of Pinsap (Monotropa hypopithys). I knew about Indinapipes (Monotropa uniflora) although I’d never seen it but I didn’t know about Pinesap, its cousin. These were young plants; some were just emerging from the leaf litter.

There are only two species – M. uniflora and M. hypopithys – in the genus Monotropa. These plants are unusual in that they don’t contain chlorophyll and can’t produce energy by photosynthesis. They get energy by parasitizing fungi that grow in association with trees (mycorrhizal fungi). The ‘stems’ are not true stems but flower stems.

As a result the plants are not green but pale colors. According to Connecticut Wildflowers, flowers that grow in the summer are usually a pale lemon-green and those in the fall are reddish. Those we found were distinctly reddish.
A cluster of flowers in the leaf litter. These were growing in the shade but the sun would shine through fleetingly.

A closer view

A still closer view

A single flower stem showing the cluster of flowers at the top and the bracts

Looking down on flowers

A close-up view from the side

As we left, W spotted…

a cluster of flowers among the leaves

A closer view

Close-up views of a couple of clusters

As we were photographing, a bumble bee flew up to feed on the flowers.

Monotropa hypopithys (Pinesap) is native to the United States where it’s been officially documented from all continental states except North and South Dakota, Utah and Nevada. In Georgia, it’s been officially documented in counties in far north Georgia as well as Greene, Barrow and Gwinnett counties. It has not been officially documented in Lumpkin County.

This was a totally serendipitous find. Although this flower wasn’t on our bucket list, it quickly made it on the list to be checked off. Now to keep an eye out for Monotropa uniflora (Indianpipes)
Click on an image to view a larger image

Identification resources:
Southeastern Flora:
- Monotropa uniflora (Indianpipe)
Name that Plant: Native and Naturalized Plants of the Carolinas and Georgia:
Connecticut Wildflowers: Pinesap (Monotropa hypopithys)     

United States Department of Agriculture Plants Database:

University of North Carolina Herbarium:

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Ontario Wanderer said...

I have occasionally seen these in midsummer in their pale yellow form but never the reds of the fall. Great find!

JSK said...

It's going to be interesting to return to this spot earlier (June) to see if there are pale green plants.