Many people are drawn to the unique and unearthly appearance of the elusive and mysterious Monotropa uniflora, Ghost Pipe. Unfortunately, stands of these beautiful creatures are being over-harvested by the curious every year.
Ghost Pipe, also known as Indian Pipe, Corpse Plant, and Fit plant, is a plant devoid of chlorophyll, which is why it has a pale, waxy appearance. It is so fragile that a mere touch can cause the flower to turn black, shrivel and die before it has a chance to pollinate.
This plant cannot photosynthesize. Rather, it depends on trees and fungi – very specific trees and fungi – to live. Its roots contain fungi that require a bed of decaying leaves to enable connection to the roots of nearby conifers. The sugars from the conifers are the food source, via the fungi, for the Ghost Pipe. So in actuality, this plant requires the presence of a trinity of beings to survive: fungi, conifers for their sugars, and deciduous trees for their rotting leaf drop. Given the complexity of the relationships between the Ghost Pipe, the fungi and the trees, it will not survive if you try to transplant it.
Let me say that again in a slightly different way: By attempting to transplant this rare plant you are actually killing it, as you cannot possibly replicate the growing conditions it needs to survive.
In the 6 years I’ve been studying this plant locally and tracking its growth I’ve noticed an alarming reduction in its numbers. You may say, “Well there’s so much of it where I am, it won’t matter if I harvest a little bit.”
To those of you who say that I ask, “What will happen to the plant if everyone who walks by it says that?”
Yes, gentle reader, I’m speaking directly to you, imploring you on behalf of this beautiful plant to stop before you pick it. Think for a bit. Ask yourself some hard questions:
- Why do you want to harvest this plant? What is your intent?
- How will you use it?
- Have you tried every other available option for whatever you’re treating?
I’ve had people tell me they’ve harvested pounds of this plant. That’s right. POUNDS. I’ve had people contact me after they’ve harvested copious amounts of it, asking me to help them make it into something, what exactly they aren’t sure, nor are they clear on how they will use whatever they make with it.
Please understand, if you were an experienced clinical herbalist with a thriving, enormous herbal practice seeing many clients on a regular basis it would still take you YEARS to go through the amount of tincture you could make from a pound of this plant. In the very long time it would take you to use all the tincture from that one pound of plant material, the area that was overharvested would likely still not recover.
It’s extremely disturbing to witness a beloved plant that I consider one of my strongest allies mistreated in this way by well meaning individuals. It’s even more upsetting to me to realize that I inadvertently enabled this behavior by writing a previous post about how to use this plant. In a very real way, I feel that I’ve betrayed someone close and dear to me.
I thought if someone was drawn to this plant, it was because they too felt the same sense of respect and deep reverence that I feel for Ghost Pipe.
I was wrong.
The plant paid the price.
I am fiercely protective of those I love, and make no mistake, that extends most especially to my plant allies, as they cannot advocate for themselves. At my request, my previous article is no longer available. I will not help decimate its numbers nor will I continue to enable misuse, however inadvertent that misuse may be.
My answer to anyone asking how to use this plant is that one can learn much from a plant meditation or shamanic journey to the spirit of the Ghost Pipe while not harming the plant itself, and I do encourage working with the plant in this sustainable, reasonable way. Given the spiritual nature of Ghost Pipe, this is in fact the best way to work with this plant.
Meditate while sitting next to the plant, being mindful of its fragility by not touching it. Invite the spirit of Ghost Pipe into your journey or meditation and ask what lessons it has for you as well as what it needs from you. The answers may be surprising.
When you finish your meditation, thank the plant for the lessons. Offer it a gift – tobacco is traditional. Know that once you’ve connected with a plant spirit through meditation or a shamanic journey, that connection will remain with you. You can re-visit the plant spirit through any subsequent meditation, regardless of where you are in relation to the actual physical presence of the plant.
But please, do not pick this plant. Give it a break. It’s just trying to survive.