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Sweet Pinesap, Pygmy Pipes, Carolina beechdrops, Appalachian Pygmy Pipes - Monotropsis odorata


Family: Ericaceae - Heath family Genus Common Name: Pygmypipes Native Status: NativeDicot Perennial Herb
Monotropsis odorata - Sweet Pinesap, Pygmy Pipes, Carolina beechdrops, Appalachian Pygmy Pipes. There are only 1 or 2 species in the Monotropsis genus; some authorities consider the fall-flowering form to be a separate species, M. reynoldsiae, while some classify them as a single species. The spring form blooms from early spring into early summer. The genus name indicates the similarity of Monotropsis to the Monotropa genus. The species epithet - odorata - refers to the strong, sweet aroma of the plant while in bloom. This plant is small and inconspicuous, sometimes not rising above the fallen leaves in its forest habitat, frequently upland woods under oaks and pines, often cohabiting with Rhododendron and Mountain Laurel. The coloration of Sweet Pinesap also adds to the difficulty in spotting it, and it is frequently smelled and not seen.

Sweet Pinesap has no chlorophyll and is mycotrophic - it gets its nutrition from fungi which get their nutrition from the roots of trees. Both Monotropa and Monotropsis are mycotrophic, and have been classified together in a different family - Monotropaceae. While their move to Ericaceae has been somewhat controversial, apparently recent studies support that move.

Monotropsis odorata is a rare plant of the southeastern U.S. It is endangered or threatened in Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, and Tennessee.

Found in:
AL, DE, FL, GA, KY, MD, NC, SC, TN, VA, WV

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Monotropsis odorata

Distribution of Monotropsis odorata in the United States and Canada:
USDA Plants Distribution Map temporarily unavailable.
Blue=Native; Grey=Introduced

Map from USDA Plants Database:
USDA, NRCS. 2017. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 28 Apr 2017). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

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Site: Devilís Fork State Park, Oconee County, SC Date: 2014-March-21Photographer: Gerald C. Williamson
Nikon D7000
Tamron SP 90MM f/2.8 AF Macro
The flower of Sweet Pinesap (Monotropsis odorata) are purple to violet with 5 white tipped petals. The petals are fused near the base to form an urn-like shape. The similar Pinesap (Monotropa hypopitys) has petals that are separate to the base. Both Sweet Pinesap and Pinesap have multiple flowers per inflorescence, unlike Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora), which has a single flower per inflorescence.
Monotropsis odorata

Site: Devilís Fork State Park, Oconee County, SC Date: 2014-March-21Photographer: Gerald C Williamson
Nikon D7000
Tamron SP 90MM f/2.8 AF Macro
The flowering stem of Monotropsis odorata has a number of brown bracts on it that are similar in color and texture as the dead leaves under which the plant may be buried. It has been shown that this camouflage may be effective in reducing herbivore consumption of the plant. The bracts are similar in color and shape to the sepals.
Click on the photo for a larger image
Monotropsis odorata

Site: Devilís Fork State Park, Oconee County, SC Date: 2014-March-21Photographer: Gerald C Williamson
Nikon D7000
Tamron SP 90MM f/2.8 AF Macro
Sweet Pinesap grows to about 5 inches tall, although it usually is shorter. The size, coloration, and environment in which they grow can make them nearly invisible, their presence indicated only by the sweet aroma wafting through the forest.
Click on the photo for a larger image
Monotropsis odorata

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All content except USDA Plants Database map Copyright Gerald C. Williamson 2017
Photographs Copyright owned by the named photographer