Indians Pipes are not only strange-looking but strange acting. Botanists are not certain how they survive. At first, they were thought to be parasitic – living directly off other live plants. Then they were deemed saprophytic – living off dead plants. The latest thinking, however, is that they are “epiparasite” – a parasite that forms a relationship with another parasite to get food from a host. In this case, a fungus connects the roots of the Indian Pipe to a nearby plant, transmitting essential nutrients.
That’s why the pipe is white and leafless. It doesn’t need chlorophyll for photosynthesis, and it doesn’t need leaves, the food factories for most plants.
And that’s also why, when most of summer’s flowers are aglow in the fields, you’ll find Indian Pipe hiding in the shadows, deep in the woods.