Practical ecological knowledge for the temperate reader.

Indian-Pipe - Monotropa uniflora

"Monotropa uniflora is a PERENNIAL growing to 0.2 m (0ft 8in). It is in flower from Jul to September. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs)"
"Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) or semi-shade (light woodland). It prefers moist soil." [PFAF]

Ecological Indicator Information "A shade-tolerant, submontane to montane, Asian and transcontinental North American saprophyte. Occurs on fresh to moist, nitrogen-medium soils in montane boreal, wet temperate, and cool mesothermal climates; its occurrence decreases with increasing latitude. Occurs sporadically in closed-canopy coniferous forests (most common on southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands) on water-shedding and water-receiving sites. Characteristic of mycorrhiza-rich Mor and acidic Moder humus forms." [IPBC-E-flora]

"It is a mysterious, underground except when flowering, perennial common boreal non-photosynthetic flowering epiparasite. It parasitizes parasitic tree fungi, and is not dependent on one particular fungus, forming associations with at least a dozen different fungi, many of which produce edible mushrooms. It grows in complete shade on stable forest floors, usually where green plants do not. It seems completely dependent on its host fungi for organic nutrients." [Ryan Drum]
"Its underground mass attracts fungal mycelial growth, from the fungi parasitizing live trees, both conifers and deciduous trees, providing myriad small knobbly papillar surfaces where nutrients pass from the fungal tissue to Monotropa. At least 14 species of trees can be used. I do not know if an individual Monotropa plant utilizes more than one fungal species or more than one tree species. I assume that the fungi derive some benefit from their associations with Monotropa, probably derivative secondary metabolites." [Ryan Drum]
Ammonia Smell: "The Coast Salish allegedly associated the appearance of Monotropa with the probable deposition of wolf urine, presumably at territorial marking sites. I usually notice the odor of ammonia in the fresh plants. Perhaps this helped substantiate the wolf urine connection, which also may stimulate Monotropa host growth." [Ryan Drum]


Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

"I believe Monotropa has a great future as a psychiatric nervine in acute cases." [Ryan Drum] "The Potawatomi medicine woman, Mrs. Spoon, used the roots of this plant to make a tea for female troubles. There is a record[137] of the use of the root as a sedative in place of opium and of its use in fevers in the place of quinine." [HuronSmith Zuni]


Further Uses

"Monotropa uniflora is a circumboreal saprophyte that extends into the tropics at higher elevations in Central America (Mabberley 1997). Linnaeus ([1753] 1957) knew it from Canada to Virginia, and accepted the name Monotropa as proposed by Gronovius. Those who preceded his Flora Virginica considered it an Orobanche. Apparently, there are only two species in the genus, this and M. hypopitys. Millspaugh (1892) recorded that the Americans learned about medical applications of these plants from the indigenous people; his source was Rafinesque’s Medical Flora. Raflnesque said that juice from Monotropa “mixt with water deemed specific lotion for sore eyes” by native people. Porcher (1863) wrote, “This is used by the steam practitioners.” Others consider it good for spasms and fainting spells, which explains some of the common names (Coffey 1993). The Potawatomi used the root for “female troubles” (Smith 1933)."[Daniel F. Austin]

Medicinal Uses:


Fungal Relationships

"Campbell (1971) claimed to have traced Armillaria rhizomorphs to Monotropa uniflora root balls, but the current molecular evidence suggests that the associates fall within the Russulaceae (Cullings et aL 1996). In contrast, morphological characterisation of the associates of Monotropa uniflora and M. hypopithys by Martin (1985, 1986) are compatible with recent molecular identifications. He reported that M. uniflora associated exclusively with several Russula species and that European collections of M. hypopithys associated with Tricholoma species. This agrees with the Cullings et aL (1996) report for M. uniflora and with recent unpublished work on M. hypopithys from M. Bidartondo (pers. comm.)." [Heijden ME]


"We have very little information on this plant but it should be hardy in this country. It is likely to require shady woodland conditions in a humus-rich moist soil, It is a saprophytic plant, quite devoid of chlorophyll and depending totally on its host plant for nutrient[1]." [PFAF]


"This is going to be an exceedingly difficult plant to propagate. The seed will need to be sown close to its host plant so one way would be to sow it in the leaf litter under established beech or coniferous trees[1]. Alternatively, you could try sowing the seed in a cold frame in a pot that already contains a potential host plant. If successful, grow the young plant on in the cold frame for a couple of years before planting it out close to an established beech or coniferous tree." [PFAF]


Family: Ericaceae - Heath

"Perennial herb, non-green, glabrous to glandular-hairy; roots brittle, main often elongate. Stem: 0. Leaf: 0. Inflorescence: raceme-like or flowers 1; emerging from ground nodding, erect in fruit, persistent after seed dispersal, bracted; pedicel generally recurved to spreading when anthers open, erect in fruit, jointed to flower, bractlets 1–2. Flower: sepals generally 5, free; petals generally 5, free, oblong-cup-shaped, ± bulged at base; stamens generally 10, included, anthers dehiscing by 1 or 2 slits, unawned; nectary lobes (8)10, ± clasping stamen bases; ovary superior, lines of dehiscence evident, chambers (4)5, placentas axile. Fruit: capsule, loculicidal, erect, dehiscing tip to base. Seed: many per chamber, fusiform.
2 species: northern hemisphere. (Greek: 1 direction, from 1-sided inflorescence)" [Jepson]

1. Plants pinkish to straw-coloured; inflorescence of several to many flowers in terminal clusters; petals 4, 10-14 mm long; sepals 4...........................Monotropa hypopithys
1. Plants waxy-white; inflorescence of a single terminal flower; petals usually 5, 15-20 mm long; sepals lacking but upper bracts sepal-like...........................Monotropa uniflora [IFBC-E-flora]

Local Species;

  1. Monotropa hypopithys - pinesap [E-flora]
  2. Monotropa uniflora - indian-pipe [TSFTK][E-flora]

Pinesap - Monotropa hypopithys

Family: (Ericaceae (Heath family)) [E-flora]

General: Perennial herb from a fleshy root mass; parasites on mycorrhizal fungi associated with trees; "stems" erect, simple, 5-30 cm tall, pinkish to straw-coloured, drying to black; persistent after seed dispersal; without chlorophyll.

Habitat/Range: Mesic forests in the montane zone; frequent in SW BC, infrequent in SC BC and northward to 57oN; circumboreal, N to SE AK, E to NF, and S to CA, MX, and FL; Europe. [E-flora-2]

Status: Native

Phytochemicals: Gaultherin found in M.hypopithys. [PCPB]


  1. E-flora - [Accessed: 4/12/2015]
  2. E-flora-2, Accessed April 1, 2018
  3. [Jepson] Gary D. Wallace, 2013. Monotropa, in Jepson Flora Project (eds.) Jepson eFlora,, accessed on Jun 10 2014
  4. PFAF -, Accessed April 12, 2015
  5. Ryan Drum - Ryan Drum,, Waldron WA, U.S.A., Accessed June 23, 2014

Page last modified on Monday, January 10, 2022 3:06 AM