Update: I’m happy to say the author of the article mentioned here has updated her article since mine was published. It is a bit more accurate now.
I’ve seen this floating around quite a bit, and it’s created many misconceptions surrounding Monotropa Uniflora, also known as Ghost Pipes or Indian Pipes.
To respect a plant is to tell the truth, not create misconceptions. To honor it. To approach it with both evidence-based information and ancient wisdom. I urge people to respect this plant. I urge people to understand practical use.
On that note, let me debunk some of the statements in this opinion piece with information coming directly from the Wisconsin DNR and the University of Wisconsin Department of Botany.
(Note: As with any plant, distribution will vary from state to state, from country to country. This article reflects information from Wisconsin as well as most parts of the eastern United states. Check with your local DNR/University extension for information on your area.)
Per University of Wisconsin Department of Botany-
Monotropa Uniflora (Ghost pipes or Indian pipes) are NOT endangered, and are abundant in North and Central America. They are widely abundant in Wisconsin. It is not disappearing. It is not rare.
Picking the stems while leaving the roots undisturbed does NOT affect future growth. As with many plants, it is important to leave the roots so that your harvesting is sustainable. It is a traditional Native American medicinal plant, and indeed is useful to humans and has been used for many centuries as a medicine. Medicinal uses are documented, and provide benefits unlike any other plant we know of. Uses range from treating PTSD to chronic pain. As it is very potent and does not work well for individuals with certain health conditions, I would advise using it under supervision of a trained professional.
Ethics and conservation are indeed important. ALL medicinal plants deserve respect. Sustainably harvesting a widely abundant plant is no more about ego, objectification, or “plant porn” than harvesting/photographing echinacea, motherwort, St Johns wort, or any other beneficial plant.
Let me give you an example- one of my favorite medicinals, blue vervain, is rare in Wisconsin. I have only one patch I’ve found. I harvest about 25% of the patch every year, leaving the roots intact, as I have done for about 5 years. The patch has grown noticeably over the years.
In addition to that, Ghost Pipe does not photosynthesize like a typical plant. As it gets all of its sugars from fungal mycelium, the aerial parts are primarily for reproduction and not necessary to sustain the root. So as long as you leave seed to help spread some, harvesting this plant is actually more sustainable than any perennial plant that needs to photosynthesize to sustain the sugars in the taproot.
In summary, there is no science or evidence behind the claims in this article and I’d like to put that to rest. Respect the facts, respect the evidence, respect our environment and the food and medicine it provides for us, respect and pass on our ancestors wisdom and traditions.
Read more about this plant and its distribution here: http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=MOUN3