I was playing disc golf at Meeman-Shelby State Park just north of Memphis in Tennessee. The course is very beautiful and most holes are in a very mature, hardwood forest. It was a surprise to find a good drive had landed next to Monatropa uniflora. This is a plant species that lacks chlorophyll and is found in dense, dark woodlands – which makes the stark, white plant stalk all the more stunning.
Without chlorophyll, the plant cannot produce its own food. Carbon fixation is what chlorophyll is all about, and I had always assumed these plants were parasitic on the nearby large trees that have lots of chlorophyll. It seems that Monatropa is actually parasitic on the mycorrhizal fungi associated with the roots of the trees.
This plant has been used as a pain reliever and can also be eaten. Plants like this are an important indicator of intact, complex systems and it is always exciting to see such species. Perhaps, the greatest human use is making one’s spirit soar. After I started looking for it, I found M. uniflora to be very common along the disc golf course. I would like to believe that people disc golfing in a mature forest is compatible with the forest – I sure hope so.