From the forest of cedar and moss and in the realm of fairies and fawns, I write. Like many of my friends and neighbors, I’ve left the valley. This getaway was pre-planned, and not by chance. You see, it has become my tradition to plan our summer vacations in August in the event of the unfortunate and all-too-predictable fire season.
Despite being among family away from the smoke, there is a deep sadness in being away from the valley. Sadness in leaving the place we love and knowing how terribly inhospitable it has become, and angst for what we will return to. We’ve got the “6 Ps” packed and hauled. Our valuables, mementos and old photos live permanently in Tupperware bins stored far from home.
It’s here in this land of hemlock and fern that a curious and mysterious plant grows. Known as Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora), this plant is an epiparasite. Indian pipe does not have its own chlorophyl and therefore doesn’t produce its own food from sunlight. Instead, it feeds off a fungus which acts as an intermediary between a tree and this plant. The fungus mycelia, which are fibrous rootlike tendrils, exchanges nutrients between the tree and the Indian pipe.
Often referred to as “ghost plant or corpse plant,” it takes is name from its translucent white flesh. The flower of this plant is just as curious as its life strategy. Tinged pinkish during bloom, it then dries into a more bizarre creature with black-tipped bracts with small white balls around a pink upside- down bell that looks like a nipple. Plants like these must be the stuff of Dr. Seuss’s imaginary worlds.
Indian pipe can be found in moist forest where there’s a lot of decay and soil buildup. The upper reaches of the Methow where you find cedars may be a place to find them. Of course, since most people aren’t hiking right now in the valley, keep this one in your memory archive for the next time you are. Until then, may you find a place to breath fresh air and stay safe.