I discovered this albino beauty in the northern Midwest woods while looking for a wayward golf ball. This ghostly plant is a flower called the Indian Pipe (Ghost Plant or Corpse Plant). It is related to the blueberry plant and has many medicinal uses such as a pain reliever and eyewash. The Indian Pipe is a myco-heterotroph; a plant lacking chlorophyll (heterotroph) that gets its nourishment from mycorrhizae (myco) below the soil surface.
I am constantly delighted at the connections between the hidden soil organisms below and the visible life above. The Indian Pipe is a perfect example of this above/below ground scenario – the beautiful single flower rising up from the soil that is jam-packed with mycorrhizae that share its food with the Indian Pipe. This example perfectly demonstrates our tagline, “The Beauty Above comes from the Science Below.” These connections motivated us to create our soil amendment, VITAL Blend – an organic way to get the necessary ingredients back into the urban soil to support the hidden biome beneath our feet.
Plant Ménages à Trois
The Indian Pipe gets its food by “sipping” from the mycorrhizal network within the forest floor. There is a symbiotic relationship between the fungal mycorrhizae and the surrounding trees. The trees are the food machine, using the chlorophyll in their leaves to produce carbohydrates that are transferred throughout the tree, including down to the roots. The fungi envelope (endo/ecto) the tree’s roots and alter the soil’s nutrients and minerals for easier uptake into the trees. As a reward, the roots secrete sugars (exudate) that feed the fungus. While the Indian Pipe is not directly involved in the symbiosis between the tree roots and the mycorrhizae, it is directly benefited by this relationship. I wonder what other hidden connections are quietly being made in the soil that we are unaware of?
Myco-Sequestration of Carbon
Myco- Sequestration – okay, I am making this word up! But remember what I said about the soil being jam-packed with mycorrhizae and other microorganisms, especially around the roots (rhizosphere). There is a huge amount of organic carbon bound up in the soil. For example, one gram of soil can hold up to one billion bacteria.1 So if we were to combine just the fungi and tree roots found within the soil, it would equate to about 60% of all carbon held in the soil.2 The Indian Pipe and its inter-connections demonstrate how nature does a great job of sequestering carbon into our soils.
Therefore it is a global advantage to promote these hidden soil communities who store organic carbon in our soils (sequestration). Using VITAL Blend soil amendment will also help sequester carbon. It is an organic blend of BioChar (fixed carbon) and Humates (active carbon). The BioChar will stay “fixed” in the soil for over 600 years. It improves the soil structure and increases soil microbiology.
BTW – I did find my golf ball and No, I won’t be attending a professional golf circuit any time soon.
Want to learn more about the Indian Pipe? Go to MSU Extension’s website, http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/indian_pipes_oddities_of_the_plant_world
Want to learn more about how VITAL Blend soil amendments can enhance the soil micro-biomes near you? Go to www.ambiochar.com
1 OSU Extension Service, https://extension.oregonstate.edu/node/82551
2 Scientific American (2013), https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/root-fungus-stores-a-surprising/