Indian Pipe a rare and ghostly sighting
Published: Saturday, November 30, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 27, 2013 at 10:46 a.m.
Q: We found a very unusual plant in the wooded part of our lot. It was a white plant with leaves that sort of looked like an asparagus spear with a flower on the top. I'm not sure it was a plant because it wasn't green. Do you know what this is?
A: You were treated to a rare sighting of a plant called the Indian Pipe or Monotropa uniflora. There have been reports of lots of flower clusters of this strange plant in the woods in North Central Florida this year. Sometimes, it is called the ghost plant because it is waxy white and survives completely without chlorophyll.
The Indian Pipe has scale-like leaves and a flower that droops over. Usually, you will find the flowers in clusters of five or more, on stems 4 to 12 inches tall.
They survive by deriving nutrition from underground fungi that live on the forest trees. It isn't harming the trees; the Indian Pipe is just part of the forest ecology. This plant is in the blueberry family and is native to most of North America. The flowers will only be seen for a few weeks, so it is a great time to hike the woods in search of the Indian Pipe. They are easy to spot. Look for them in the shady woods on or near decaying plant matter and in the surface leaf litter. For more information about native plants and Florida- friendly landscaping, call the UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County Master Gardeners at 955-2402.
Q: We have fire ants in our raised-bed vegetable gardens. They are attacking us every time we pick lettuce or greens. Our fall garden is growing really well, but please help us get rid of these darn ants. We try to use organic gardening methods as much as possible.
A: Sometimes, ants move into the vegetable garden, and, as you have discovered, they are a real nuisance, especially when weeding or harvesting. Ants do not normally feed on the vegetable plants, but you might see them on some plants tending aphids or feeding on buds of plants like okra.
When fire ants are in the garden beds, you can shovel the mound out and move it away from the garden area.
Perform this fun task with a long-handled shovel and with gloves on. Another organic approach is to pour very hot water on to the mound. This usually disturbs them enough for them to move along. If you choose to use the hot water approach, be very careful not to burn yourself.
Some organic gardeners use a product with d-limonene. This is contained in orange oil and is sold as a soil amendment (Safer Brand Fire Ant Killer or Orange Guard).
Our usual go-to ant bait treatment like Amdro is not labeled for use in the vegetable garden. Only a few bait products are labeled for home gardens. Look for one called Fertilome Come and Get It with the active ingredient of spinosad.
One of the best ways to keep ants from entering the garden is to manage them properly in the landscape. Do this by treating mounds with baits outside the garden. For more information about managing fire ants in the garden and around the home, visit the UF/IFAS Extension website www.solutionsforyourlife.com.
Wendy Wilber is an extension agent with UF/IFAS. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.