Monotropa uniflora, the ghost pipe

An interesting plant that spends its life primarily underground and is spotted thanks to its white flower spikes. The plant is an herbaceous parasite that lacks proper chlorophyll as it does not require sunlight to produce its energy. It can be found across the US, and in some parts of Asia. It flowers late summer and Autumn.

It is a mycoheterotrophic plant, which means it is a parasite on fungi that traditionally are in a symbiotic relationship with other plants/trees. Plants and fungi interact with each other in complex ways. Some, like most orchids, depend on fungi for germination and adult life. The relationship is called a Mycorrhiza. It is believed that plants, like the ghost pipe, evolved to only take from the fungi it was in a mutualistic relationship with, thus becoming a parasite. 

Effectively these plants are parasites on other trees/plants in a mutualistic relationship with the fungi. This form of parasitism is not uncommon, and a specific description can be found in Tom Volk’s Fungus of the Month.

There is another method, though, something that’s far more exciting! In the second half of the twentieth century, countries (US and USSR) were conducting nuclear tests. These tests released a plume of carbon isotopes (C-13), causing an increase in its prevalence in plant material alive around that time. Thus plant material decaying from before the tests and plants active during the tests have a different carbon signature. This difference has been exploited to distinguish between saprotrophs and mycoheterotrophs

The flower spike grows next to a Canadian mayflower.
The flower spike grows next to a Canadian mayflower.

Pogonia ophioglossoides

Pogonia ophioglossoides, better known by its common names, Rose Pogonia, or the snakemouthorchid. It is a terrestrial orchid found in wet areas along the East Coast, as north as Canada. It is pollinated by bees that it attracts by its sweet fragramce.

The scent of the orchid was put to words by Robert Frost in his poem titled “Rose Pogonias”, where he says – “stifling sweet/with the breath of many flowers…”

In New Jersey, these can be found in bogs or wetlands, even growing alongside carnivorous plants. As seen in the second photo, couple of orchids bloom alongside an old flower of a pitcher plant.

Eastern (Red-Spotted) Newt

Notophthalmus viridescens,the eastern newt is a common newt found across eastern North America. The adults are not as striking as the juveniles (efts), which are brightly colored to warn you of their toxins.

Shown here is an individual eft we stumbled across in high point state park, New Jersey. The swamps of the High Point are unique and are biologically diverse. You can learn more about the bog here on this excellent blog that goes through its natural history and its unusual evolution.

Utricularia

Utricularia, or more commonly known as Bladderwort, is a genus of carnivorous plants that are semi-aquatic to terrestrials. Their modified leaves underwater can catch small insects and even algae. Which technically makes them an omnivorous plant! You can find more information in this blog postInDefenceOfPlants is an excellent source of plant information. 

Shown above are two species I found in bloom, stripped bladderwort (Utricularia striata)[1 and 2] and the horned bladderwort (Utricularia cornuta) [3,4 and 5].

Here in New Jersey, you can find them growing in bogs. New Jersey hosts more than 10 species of bladderworts, some rare and threatened. They are hard to spot for most of the year, but in mid-summer, they pop out a pretty yellow flower blooming above the water surface. Clustered together, they put on quite a show.

Drosera filiformis

Drosera filiformis, also known as thread-leaved sundew, is found across North America from Florida to Nova Scotia. They form rosettes with some of the tallest leaves found in the sundew genus. The variation in Florida can extend unto 18″ in length. The leaves grow straight up during early spring; the first two images show a […]