A Forager’s Guide to Ghost Pipe (Monotropa uniflora)

Ghost Pipe
Ghost pipe is a stunning and unusual native wildflower with a thick, white translucent stem and a white nodding flower. Be careful; eating the plant is not recommended due to its mild toxicity.

Monotropa uniflora plant profile

Scientific nameMonotropa uniflora
Family nameEricaceae
Plant typeNonphotosynthetic perennial herb 
PhylumVascular plant
HabitatShady forests
Flower colorPinkish or translucent white
Bloom timeJuly-September

Common names include:

  • Indian pipe
  • Corpse plant
  • Ghost pipe
  • Ice plant
  • Death plant
  • Ghost flower
  • Bird’s nest

The leaves of the ghost plant resemble scales and clasp the stem. It is a single nodding flower at first but becomes upright as it dries and bears its seeds. Drying changes the color to a chocolate brown or almost black.

Since this plant lacks chlorophyll and cannot do photosynthesis, it receives nutrients from its host plant, usually the tree roots of a conifer or deciduous tree.

Although there is some debate regarding whether this plant is saprophytic or parasitic, in either case, it would be unable to survive without the assistance of its host.

The Indian pipe grows only deep in the shade of the forest, not in the sun. Subsurface mycorrhizal fungi (mycorrhizae) provide nourishment to the host plant.

As with most other flowers, this flower has bisexual parts and requires insects for pollination.

Monotropa uniflora
Monotropa uniflora

Where does Ghost pipe grow?

Ghost pipe is a native plant to temperate regions of North America, South America, and Asia, with very large gaps in between.

This delicate and ethereal plant grows on the forest floor and is generally considered quite rare to find.

Because they do not require sunlight to survive, they can live in very dark locations, such as on the floor of deep forests. 

Ghost pipe Identification

The ghost pipe plant is rather unique and can be easily identified by its translucent stem and translucent white or pinkish color. Also, it looks a bit like a tobacco pipe.

Indian pipe is a low-growing plant that grows to 4 to 10 inches. When young, the plant appears waxy white, although some species display pale salmon pink coloration and black spots.

There is a thick and translucent stem. In addition to being found alone, stems are commonly gathered in small clusters. New stems are prone to breaking.

Ghost pipe
Ghost pipe/Indian pipe

It has translucent scale-like leaves arranged along the stem that measure less than an inch in length. As the leaves do not participate in photosynthesis, they are vestigial.

The Indian pipe bears a single white flower with 4 to 6 segments. There is only one flower on each stem of a plant.

Once pollinated by an insect, the flower appears like a shepherd’s hook but gradually straightens out. It is at this point that the stem becomes upright.

It usually blooms from late July through August, although it may appear as early as late June in some years.

How rare is a ghost pipe?

Even though ghost pipe grows wild throughout the United States (except in the Southwest), sightings are very rare as each plant blooms for only one week each year.

This mysterious flowering plant spends the other 51 weeks of the year underground. This plant is perennial and will reappear in the same location each year. 

Is ghost pipe edible?

Ghost pipe is not considered a healthy edible, so you are probably better off avoiding eating it. 

A few people have reported eating some, but nearly as many have reported feeling ill or strange after doing so.

There are several myths and questionable claims associated with this plant. The Indian pipe plant, for example, is often referred to as a hallucinogen by many people. There is no definitive answer to this question.

Ghost pipe uses

  • Native Americans used ghost pipe tincture medicinally for its ability to treat both physical and emotional pain. It is a sedative plant that helps control anxiety, panic attacks, and insomnia.
  • It also effectively treats muscle spasms, nervousness, agitation, migraines, fevers, and infections.
  • In Cherokee culture, the root was used to prevent convulsions.
  • In Mohegan culture, it was used for pain relief.
  • In Cree culture, the flower was chewed to treat toothaches.


Ana has always been interested in all things nature and flora. With her expertise in home gardening and interest in foraging, she has been spending her weekends and free time looking for edible native plants, flowers, and fungi. One of her many hobbies includes testing new savory and sweet recipes, juices or teas made from freshly picked plants, wild fruits, or mushrooms.

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