When I first encountered this plant, I thought it was a fungus (that’s a common assumption). However, it’s not! It’s an epiparasite, which means it’s a parasite for a parasite (it obtains nutrients from another parasite).
It gets nutrients from its roots from mycorrhizal fungi that are connected to a nearby green plant that photosynthesizes. Since it gets all it’s organic nutrients from another plant, it’s green (photosynthetic) leaves were lost during evolution.
If you cut one of these guys to pretend you’re a ghost smoking a pipe – beware! As soon as it is cut, the stem turns black and it starts to ooze a clear gelatinous substance.
Alternate Names: Ghost Flower, Indian Pipe Size: 2"-8" tall Family: Ericaceae (Heath Family) Habitat: In forests, and always in shade. Identification: Waxy-white fleshy, perennial herb with clusters of stems that turn black with age. Tiny scale-like leaves the same color as the stem. Solitary flowers at the end of the stem, narrowly bell-shaped, nodding. Fruit an erect capsule. Flowers June-October, fruits August-November. From Wildflower and Plant Communities