Discovery on AT Hike

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Mountain Laurel tunnel

Despite temperatures greater than 90 degrees and heat advisory warnings, my mom, aunt and I hiked a portion of the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania several weeks ago. The shade from the trees and shrubs on the woodland trail gave us some relief from the heat. When we felt tired, we sat on a log, drank water and ate snacks. The sun shapes nudged us forward. We wondered, “What is at the end of the trail curve or climb where the sun stretches wider?” Playful drops of light on forest leaves, rocks and moss led us along the way to our ten mile goal.  Not too shabby for our “over a half-century” bodies! We discovered energy we did not know we had and inspiration as simple as sunlight.

There is an herbaceous plant that does not make its own energy from sunlight.Indian Pipe

I discovered the plant on our AT hike, poking through patches of moss near tree roots.  It is a white rubbery plant with a bell shaped head and notched stalk.  It is Monatropa Uniflora other names: Ghost plant and Indian Pipe. The Monatropa Uniflora plant is not a fungus, but a wildflower. It does not gather its energy from sunlight, but from the mutually beneficial relationship between trees and fungi.  Don’t we all feel a bit more energized with people who are kind towards each other?

These plants do not have chlorophyll (reason they are not green), therefore it does not use photosynthesis to make energy. Trees use photosynthesis to make sugars and other carbohydrates. Fungi along roots of trees in form of tiny threads underground called hyphae gather minerals and other nutrients from the soil. The trees and fungi share their energy sources with each other. When the Indian Pipe seed makes contact with the fungi hyphae it will use the hyphae’s energy sources (carbohydrates and sugars from trees and minerals from soil) to grow. Eventually more fungi grow around the Indian Pipe’s root ball and supply it with energy.    The Indian Pipe depends on energy manufactured outside itself from fungi.  Some folks just thrive helping others!  And others are humble enough to receive the help!  

Click here for more interesting facts about the Indian Pipe plant and its Native American folklore.


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