Monotropa uniflora is a perennial herb, from a ball of fibrous roots; roots associated with very specialized monotropoid mycorrhizas (Basidiomycetes, family Russulaceae), (Smith and Read 1997), that may absorb sugars from nearby, photosynthetic plants (Allen 1991; Berliner and Torrey 1989), stems 10-20 cm tall, white, often becoming pink with age, often in clumps, waxy-white with darker markings; no chlorophyll, does not carry out photosynthesis; plant becomes black as fruit develops (Levine 1995).
Leaves 0.5-1.5 cm long, scale-like, white, clasping stem.
Flowers solitary, 1-1.7 cm long, radially symmetrical, urn-shaped, petals 4-6, free, broadly oblong, swollen at base, overlapping; calyx of 2-4 scales; stamens 10; ovary superior, 5-parted; style 0.1-0.2 cm long, thick, stigma broad, slightly 5-lobed (Radford et al. 1968); flower nodding at end of stem, becoming erect as fruit develops; blooms June-Aug.
Fruit dry, an erect, black capsule 1-2.5 cm long, urn-shaped with 8-10 grooves, 4-5 parted, each chamber splitting open to release numerous, seeds minute, wind dispersed; fruits matures Aug.-Oct. (Radford et al. 1968).
Wetland status: FACU-.
Frequency in NYC: Occasional.
Habitat: Leaf litter and humus of undisturbed, mostly oak forests, usually in acid soil.
Notes: Seeds are similar to those of orchids in that they require an association with a fungus (possibly Boletus sp.) in order to grow (Smith and Read 1997). It has been shown that Monotropa shares a fungal mycelium with neighboring trees (Smith and Read 1997). There is some evidence that Indian pipe may carry out carbon fixation using a non-photosynthetic PEP carboxylase pathway (Gilliam and Roberts 2003). Plant has been used as a medicinal but contains several glycosides that may be toxic (Rook 2004; Yatskievych 2006).