They neither reap nor sow

August 22nd, 2014, 1pm

This flower goes by a variety of names. Indian Pipe, Corpse plant, Death plant, Ice plant, Ghost flower, Bird’s nest, Fairy smoke, Eyebright, Fit plant, Convulsion root - The Indian pipe has the general appearance of the calumet or peace pipe that was used by numerous Native American tribes in ceremonial amity.

The plant turns an oozy, gelatinous black as it ages or if picked hence the Corpse or Death plant. Native Americans used juices from the stem of Eyebright to treat sore or inflamed eyes. They also used it to treat warts, bunions and general aches and pains. Colonials powdered the roots as a treatment for convulsions and physicians administered it as a sedative for nervousness or restlessness: Fit plant or Convulsion root. Supposedly the plant feels cool to the touch. The startling white appearance in the gloom of dense shade and a dark forest floor certainly explain the remaining names.

Quite literally there is a lot going on beneath the surface of the woodland plots that are home to the Ghost plant

The plant has no chlorophyll. This flower gets its nutrients from a fungus (mushrooms),


which in turn gets nutrients from the roots of a tree. The fungus and tree benefit each other. The tree supplies the fungus with sugar and the fungus supplies the tree with minerals from the soil. The Fairy Smoke gives nothing in return.

The complex underground interconnectedness and dependencies means you can’t just dig up a specimen and blithely transplant it to the shady, macabre plant section of your garden.

This interesting plant with its complex interactions with the earth reminds me of the new insights we are gaining about our microbiome: the fungi, bacteria, and archaea, residing on our skin, in our mucous, mouths, intestines. We human creatures are a complex and product of genes and germs. Good health and mental balance, it appears, depends on a balance of these microbial freeloaders. (Perhaps a pending food and health fad will be The Jackson Dirt Diet.) Scrubbing ourselves as clean as stainless steal with copious amounts of hand sanitizer might not be the formula for optimal health.

You and I are the actual bums of nature, not the dreaded germs, having found a way to carry our survival-necessary rooting earth around with us in a pouch right below our hearts.

We require our little plot of soil beneath us not unlike Fairy Smoke.

Shu, Sanna, Chris and David Wade said thanks.

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Ken Jackson

An avid outdoors man. Retired and retiring, living on the shore of Lake Superior

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