Indian Pipe–The Most Amazing Flower

White as an Indian Pipe
Red as a Cardinal Flower
Fabulous as a Moon at Noon
February Hour–

Emily Dickinson (1250, year 1873)

Have you ever seen Indian Pipe–white and waxy–growing like some walking dead thing under the pines? It’s gorgeous and haunting. Its other name is “corpse plant”, so that should give you some idea of what you think when you first see it!

A long, long time ago and far away (2 hour drive from here) I used to collect wildflowers. I had a backpack filled with everything for hiking and collecting–first aid kit (which I used to help strangers, btw), a wild flower field guide, and a small flower press I’d made myself and painted. (No digital camera back then :().

Well, one day I came across this flower.


I like to use the word “love” a lot when describing my feelings toward any plant that just instantly captures my heart and imagination, but it’s true–I was in love. I wanted to pick it, and press it, and take it home. (As Emily did).

However, if you’ve seen these, too, you know that when you pick them they get back at you by turning black! I even tried to put them on ice so that they would stay white long enough for me to get them home and show them to others–but no.

Emily Dickinson’s first book of poetry, published posthumously, has this flower on the cover. It was one of her favorite, if not very favorite, wild flower. Farr’s books says toward the end of her life Mrs. Todd (Emily’s brother’s long-term lover) painted her a picture of these flowers and she wrote back her thanks, “That without suspecting it you should send me the preferred flower of life, seems almost supernatural, and the sweet glee that I felt at meeting it, I could confide to none” (L769).

Here is a picture of the book:


On pages 172, 173, and 174 of Marta McDowell’s book, Emily Dickinson’s Gardens, she talks in length about the Indian Pipe. Besides discussing its importance to Emily, she also gives a primer on the flower itself. “The Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) is an unusal plant, visually and botanically. It looks like a waxy albino stem of lily of the valley, completely white and leafless….it is an angio sperm, a flower plant, but one incapable of photosynthesis. Unlike the green growing things around it, it can’t manufacture its own food but relies on symbiotic relationships.” McDowell wonders if this is not very much like the Woman in White, Emily, and her reclusive life at her home in Amherst. (174)

I bring this flower up on my own gardening blog, not because I have any growing on my property–if only–but because I found another wildflower yesterday growing in the pasture and I stopped to take a picture. I’m not sure what it is–some Lupine perhaps? But what a pretty addition from seemingly no where.


Are there wildflowers at your homes–surrounding woods? Any special ones that you look forward to? Have you seen the Indian Pipe?

Please leave a comment and I’ll enter you to the drawing on May 4th.

22 responses to “Indian Pipe–The Most Amazing Flower

  1. emilydickinsonsgarden

    There is another one I look forward to, that grew in the meadows at Field’s Spring Washington–Indian Paint Brush.

  2. Linda,
    That beautiful wild flower looks like Grass Widow to me.
    I love and study wildflowers. I also love poetry and would read my sons my favorite poems when they were children because they didn’t seem to study poetry in school here.

    • emilydickinsonsgarden

      That is so cool, Arlene–that you read your boys poetry and that you study wildflowers. I don’t know that most educators have a real “love” for poetry or flowers–and so it’s rare that it’s passed on to students. Lucky them if they find a teacher who does–or a parent–or anyone who can speak into their lives–because both do something good for the human spirit, don’t they? (Kind of like horses.)

  3. Linda,
    I have never seen the Indian Pipe. It’s not a native to Sagebrush country but it’s so awesome I’d love to see one.
    I have never had any luck with Japanese Maple here because the winters are too cold. They do survive if planted in a sheltered spot against the house in the Spokane area. I love the Japanese maples with the pale green leaves and also the maple called the Golden Fullmoon maple. I saw one in a nursery on the coast that was beautiful but the summers here were too hot and the winters too cold for it.
    I bought some tiny bare root Japanese maples from the Lincoln County Conservation District this year to give them a try because I read that the Japanese maples that are not grafted but are from their own root are hardier that the ‘named’ varieties.

    • emilydickinsonsgarden

      I didn’t plant my Japanese Maple against the house–it’s a about 20 feet out–hopefully, it will be sheltered from the strong Southerly winds. I didn’t realize Spokane was so harsh on them, but it makes sense. I had one in Lewiston, but it’s warmer there and it was planted against the house, as you mentioned. 😦 I’m going to have to really watch it and maybe come up with a solution to protecting it this winter! (Built it its own house…..(?)….hmmm….

  4. What beautiful flowers, I have never seen any of these.
    Thanks, for sharing.

  5. I have never seen indian pipes, but I have read about them in several novels. Your story is so nice, and the pictures beautiful. Now I know what to keep an eye out for on my next walk in the woods!

  6. Wow I just went over all your posts , I ‘m sure you not in the south by the type of plants and bushes you are choosing . As the will not survive here. I like the choice very Much , they will be beautiful when they are adult sized plants and bushes, I use to have may of them when I liked in NJ but now in Fl the planting is all together different .there are so many plants that need the extreme cold to survive and grow well in the warmer times of the year.We can’t have any type of real evergreen here and our roses get very large in the winter and very small in the summer. I enjoyed looking over your blog and I love that plant that you showed called the Indian pipe. I am sure that would not live here either. our flowers bloom all year around . that is one nice thing.

  7. They are stunning Linda. I don’t know what the purple flowers are but they are all over at Fishtrap. I love flowers, however, do not have much of a greenthumb.

  8. Oh my goodness, I would have never realized those were Indian Pipes on the cover if you hadn’t pointed it out. My 1978 reprint of Favorite Poems of Emily Dickinson has that image embossed on the cover and also printed on the dust jacket.

    I have seen Indian Pipes only twice in my life. Once during my girlhood in upstate New York. The last time about 15 years ago on my mother’s farm in Michigan’s upper peninsula. I was walking along the edge of the woods. They were growing maybe a yard into the tree line.

  9. Trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) have re-established themselves in a shady part of my garden since I put up the deer fence last year. This week one is going to bloom!

    Indian pipes occasionally grace my garden under the big spruce trees in late summer. They are always a gift. Dickinson also included indian pipes in her herbarium. There is a lovely facsimile edition which is, sadly, quite expensive. But Harvard also has the images online at

  10. emilydickinsonsgarden

    I hope everyone gets a chance to see Indian Pipe on your adventures someday.

    Marta McDowell–comment above–is the author of Emily Dickinson’s Gardens–one of the books this blog is based on. I would encourage all garden loving–poetry loving–souls, to add her book to your collection. 🙂 Hey, maybe that will be my next give-away! I’d love to share this book with someone else.

    Thank you for the link! I’d love to have that edition of her herbarium, but the link will have to suffice for now. Well, unless I can find it for CHEAP on ebay–you never know.

  11. how beautiful..

  12. I’m blessed to live on 3 acres of woods. When we built our home we only cut down the trees that were in the way of the foundation we need to build. Now the dog woods are blooming, the sunflowers are starting to come up and the wild voilets are bring color to our home.

  13. Helen L. Schreivogl

    I found a clump of Indian Pipe growing in the Woods behing our house. We live in is a small town in upstate NY Even though I had never seen the flower before, I think I knew right away what it was from books that I had read. I was so pleased to see them there.

  14. Le-Ann Mitchell

    I was very excited to find this flower growing on the back lawn of our cottage. We live in Ontario, Canada and of course the area is very shaded, damp with lots of leaf litter around. I had no idea what it was and my first instinct was that it was a fungus or type of mushroom plant. I am happy to find so much information about the plant. I can’t wait to go back next weekend and see how it is doing! We have had a cold, damp summer so I guess this is the benefit we get in return. It is a beautiful, surprising, stunning flower!

  15. emilydickinsonsgarden

    Le-Ann, this was a long time ago, but I am wondering what your thoughts are now on Indian Pipe? It’s a flower no one can bring to you, so you have to experience it yourself by walking out to it. Otherwise, you’re limited to pictures. I think everyone should have the opportunity to see Indian Pipe in their lifetime. I’ve seen it only once. You’re lucky to have it growing near you.

    • I became entranced by this flower the first time I saw it, just one, on a little hiking path. I had no idea what it was and after researching found that it was the Indian Pipe. I was so lucky to have found it again hiking in Dolly Sodds, WV. I have quite a few pictures and would love to share these if anyone is interested.

      • emilydickinsonsgarden

        Danielle–I would love to see your pictures. Could we share them on the blog along with your story and impressions? Thanks.

  16. I would love to share them. How do I post the pictures?

    • emilydickinsonsgarden

      I just saw this comment….a little bit late. If you’d like, you can email them to me at and I’ll put them up on the blog. I’d love to have more pics of Indian Pipe. I haven’t seen it in years.

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