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Ghost Plants and the Wood Wide Web

These sexy Ghost Plants don’t photosynthesize. There is never anything even remotely green about them. As we learned today at the Biophilium some plants have evolved into heterotrophs meaning they get their food from someone else, like we do, rather than magicing it up out of thin air and sunlight like most autotrophic plants do.

Ghost Pipes, Monotropa uniflora

This one in particular grows in an intimate relationship with the mycelium of a Russula mushroom. The fungus isn’t fruiting today so I couldn’t see them, but I’m sure they’re down their in the soil mycorrhyzaling with the Ghost Plant and the Jack Pines. The Pine tree is huge and has green photosynthesizing needles way up in the canopy that turn sunlight into carbohydrates and brings them down into the soil. The word mycorrhyzae (fungi+root) refers to the physical connection between the plant and the mushroom who support each other by sharing sugars and minerals and water back and forth. Its a super survival strategy because some parties are much better at collecting one and not the others so they have far better chance of survival if they share their resources. 80% of plants depend completely on mycorrhyzal partnerships. It’s what people mean when they say the ‘wood wide web’. The Pinesap flower, unable to make its own carbs takes them from the fungus who takes them from the tree.

Fall Pine Sap, Monotropa hypopitys

The flowers look to me like they would be pollinated by a bee, but I read that although the fall Pinesap, who can be very red all over are pollinated by bees, summer Pinesap are yellow like this and are mostly self pollinated, which doesn’t sound like a great strategy to me, but who knows. Do you who how self pollination works?

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