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Dutchman's Pipe

Monotropa hypopitys

  • Name also: Yellow Bird’s-nest, Pinesap (Dutchman’s Pipe in USA means Aristolochia macrophylla, also named as Pipevine)
  • Family: Heather Family – Ericaceae
    (formerly Dutchman’s Pipe Family – Monotropaceae)
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Non-chlorophyllous parasite.
  • Height: 15–25 cm (6–10 in.). Stem juicy, oily yellow (sometimes reddish or brownish ).
  • Flower: Corolla campanulate (bell-shaped), pale yellow–yellowish white (occasionally red), (10–)15 mm ((0.4)–0.6 in.) long; petals 4–5, sparsely haired–glabrous, 9–13 mm (0.36–0.52 in.) long. Sepals 4–5. Stamens 8. Gynoecium fused, a single carpel, hairy. Inflorescence an approx. 10-flowered raceme, flowers nodding, with faint vanilla fragrance.
  • Leaves: Alternate, stalkless, scale-like, broadly elliptic, non-chlorophyllous, yellowish white.
  • Fruit: Hairy, erect capsule. Inflorescence becoming straighter as fruit ripens and surviving until following summer.
  • Habitat: Pine heaths, mixed forests, eskers, rocky hollows, sometimes broad-leaved forests. Companion of pine.
  • Flowering time: July–August.

At the end of summer, with good luck, passers-by can find ghostly pale, non-chlorophyllous Dutchman’s pipe, perhaps in its favoured pine heaths. Its scientific name can be loosely translated as ’hermit growing under a pine tree’, and the species undoubtedly shares some traits with hermits in that the stands are often small, separate groups of stems growing apart from each other. It only blooms after most other forest flowers and can spend a year or more invisible under the earth. Even thorough searches in likely or known habitats can end in disappointment. The withered stem turns dark brown and sticks up through the winter, allowing the seeds to travel further from the mother plant. The brown stem often remains the following summer, but it blends into the environment so well that it can easily go unnoticed.

Dutchman’s pipe is able to live for years completely under the ground thanks to its coral-like, fragile, juicy rootstock. It is a parasite which takes nutrition and water from its host, usually pine, through its fungal mycelium. The intermediary fungus can be any common mushroom that grows with pine e.g. velvet bolete, granulated boletus and yellow-cracked boletus. It probably comes down to a matter of preference if the plant uses the tree or the mushroom more. Dutchman’s pipe’s flowering stems push through the ground at the same time as the growth of the mushroom root is at its most intense. A good mushroom year brought on by a rainy summer can also see Dutchman’s pipe flowering on the heaths. The inflorescence on ssp. hypopitys is usually sparsely haired, but in broad-leaved forests on the Åland Islands and along the south-west coast there is also a rare and completely hairless subspecies ssp. hypophegea. The latter also has less flowers, which are slightly broader. The easiest way to recognise the subspecies is in the fruiting stage because ssp. hypophegea has rounder fruit. Apart from Dutchman’s pipe there are five other species growing in the Finnish wild that are wholly or partly parasitic and non-chlorophyllous.

Other species from the same family

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