HEATH FAMILY - Ericaceae: Indian Pipe; Ice-plant; Ghost-flower; Corpse-plant
Flowers--Solitary, smooth, waxy, white (rarely pink), oblong bell-shaped, nodding from the tip of a fleshy, white, scaly scape 4 to 10 in. tall. Calyx of 2 to 4 early-falling white sepals; 4 or 5 oblong, scale-like petals; 8 or 10 tawny, hairy stamens; a 5-celled, egg-shaped ovary, narrowed into the short, thick style. Leaves: None. Roots: A mass of brittle fibres, from which usually a cluster of several white scapes arises. Fruit: A 5-valved, many-seeded, erect capsule.
Preferred Habitat--Heavily shaded, moist, rich woods, especially under oak and pine trees.
Distribution--Almost throughout temperate North America.
Colorless in every part, waxy, cold, and clammy, Indian pipes rise like a company of wraiths in the dim forest that suits them well. Ghoulish parasites, uncanny saprophytes, for their matted roots prey either on the juices of living plants or on the decaying matter of dead ones, how weirdly beautiful and decorative they are! The strange plant grows also in Japan, and one can readily imagine how fascinated the native artists must be by its chaste charms.
Yet to one who can read the faces of flowers, as it were, it stands a branded sinner. Doubtless its ancestors were industrious, honest creatures, seeking their food in the soil, and digesting it with the help of leaves filled with good green matter (chlorophyll) on which virtuous vegetable life depends; but some ancestral knave elected to live by piracy, to drain the already digested food of its neighbors; so the Indian Pipe gradually lost the use of parts for which it has need no longer, until we find it to-day without color and its leaves degenerated into mere scaly bracts. Nature had manifold ways of illustrating the parable of the ten pieces of money. Spiritual law is natural law: "From him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away." Among plants as among souls, there are all degrees of backsliders. The foxglove, which is guilty of only sly, petty larceny, wears not the equivalent of the striped suit and the shaved head; nor does the mistletoe, which steals crude food from the tree, but still digests it itself, and is therefore only a dingy yellowish green. Such plants, however, as the broom-rape, Pine Sap, beech-drops, the Indian Pipe, and the dodder--which marks the lowest stage of degradation of them all--appear among their race branded with the mark of crime as surely as was Cain.
No wonder this degenerate hangs its head; no wonder it grows black with shame on being picked, as if its wickedness were only just then discovered! To think that a plant related on one side to many of the loveliest flowers in Nature's garden--the azaleas, laurels, rhododendrons, and the bonny heather--and on the other side to the modest but no less charming wintergreen tribe, should have fallen from grace to such a depth! Its scientific name, meaning a flower once turned, describes it during only a part of its career. When the minute, innumerable seeds begin to form, it proudly raises its head erect, as if conscious that it had performed the one righteous act of its life.