My ongoing fascination with Indian pipe continues. This first one I almost didn’t see, being hot and sweaty with bug spray running into my eyes, I just wanted a blast of air conditioning in the car. But I went down a little side trail and on the way back, this little beauty appeared.
Background is key to good wildflower photography and so with some careful tripod placement I was able to get the distracting highlights out of the frame. When I shoot Indian pipe, I expose for the highlights, just barely clipping some whites at times, but managing that in Lightroom is key also. Preserving detail, but keeping the bright white takes a little finagling, but it can be done.
Here’s another with a background of green; this time a lovely mossy log. I’d have liked a better angle on the log itself, but that would have meant that some flowers would be sharp while others would be blurry. Lining up the angles is sometimes hard, but I do try. In this case the sensor is so much smaller than the scene and it wasn’t too difficult. A couple of checks in the LCD screen and some tripod shifting and I had the focus I wanted. When the sunlight hit I had a shot I love.
Lately I haven’t had the time to shoot a lot. And sometimes when I have, it’s just been too damn hot, humid or rainy. The desire is there, but the circumstances just won’t work for me. That’s why I love it when something great presents itself right outside my door. This time I mean that literally. For the first time since I’ve lived in this house, I found some indian pipe in my yard. Woo hoo! These beauties are 3 steps from my front door. So great. Well kinda. They’re under a little pine tree and the branches were murder to shoot around. I did though.
Oh and in case you’re wondering, the colors in these is totally natural. I didn’t add anything. I’ve never seen such intense purple in these flowers before. Pink, yes, purple, no. So I was double excited about finding these. They’re not the best indian pipe shots in my portfolio, but there were a lot of limiting factors, mostly the background which only really worked in a limited arc. Otherwise very distracting undergrowth or my house, which doesn’t make a great background.
So anyway…that’s what I’ve got for now. Sorry so sparse. This full time employment thing is really cutting into my photography time. I do have some more paddling shots, but they’re not so terrific. Eh, maybe I’ll put them up. Who knows. Anyway, if you feel like looking at more indian pipe shots, click on the category indian pipe down there and you’ll find all the posts!
Woo hoo! Another fall-themed indian pipe shot. The brown stick phase of these little guys is so interesting, but I find it difficult to capture well. It’s the texture and the funny shape the seed pods take that attracts me. Their dark coloring is a challenge, too; hard to light. I think I did ok with these though.
I shot a few with a plain brown background (an old oak leaf), but then I decided to put a couple red and yellow leaves back there and bam! Another fall shot. Even though the flowers dry and stiffen like this in summer, their brown, dessicated crunchiness just seems more appropriate to autumn somehow.
Shooting-wise, this one was tough to set up. I used a tripod and had a heck of a time lining up the sensor-plane to the angle of the tops of the seed pods. I knew I’d need them both in focus for it to work, but since they’re separated and at different heights, tripod contortions ensued. All part of the process and I didn’t really mind seeing as it was a gorgeous day and I couldn’t hear anything except birds calling and the wind in the trees.
By now you must know how much I love indian pipe wildflowers and how even though my original project was for one season, I still shoot them almost every time I see them. Usually they bloom in June and sometimes spill over into July. But October? October?!
Yes, I did place one of those leaves back there, but not both. And they were right to hand. I’m not above a little manipulation to make the shot work better. Don’t you dig the pine needles though? Oh I love this one. It’s funny, I noticed an older one first; one that had already turned brown and then this one showed itself and boy did I go to work. So much fun.
The day of my epic face-plant yielded another present that I would have definitely missed had I gone home. All three of you that read this thing know that I had (have) a mini-project (obsession) going with Indian pipe flowers. I don’t know what it is about these luminous beauties, but I am so drawn to them. So when I was walking by the Piscataquog I found the biggest, most densely-populated swath of them I’ve ever seen. Seriously. There were so many little groups it was like a game of twister for me to not step on any while crouching under hemlock branches trying for microscapes. It was worth it though because not only was the light lickable, but the flowers were almost all pink! Pink! I don’t think in all of the time I’ve been photographing these have I seen really pink ones. So great.
Another reason I’m fascinated with Indian Pipe wildflowers is because they over-winter and I can photograph them in January!
This year I set myself a goal. A mini-project if you will. Borne out of the fact that I hadn’t been able to take a decent picture of indian pipes. Seriously. I tried. I’d see some next to the trail and set up. Everything sucked. I even shot some in winter and those are passable, but I know I can do better. That’s to come. But for now, I’ll share what I’ve got and some of the really cool things I’ve learned about them.
First of all – they are flowers. Many people think they’re some kind of fungus, but they’re not. They have a huge range that covers most of North America, some of Central and South America, Japan, China and the Indian sub-continent south of the Himalayas. Wow. It’s suspected it was because this plant evolved during the Jurassic before the continents parted for good.
They’re white because they don’t make chlorophyll which is the material that both makes plants green and gives them the ability to photosynthesize energy from sunlight. Plants without chlorophyll are called saprophytic. During my research I found out that the black marks often seen on the stems are from the places where the plant was touched. The flesh is very sensitive and will start to break down immediately. I feel sort of bad now for touching some of them now and then. I wanted to see if they felt waxy or slimy. They don’t. They feel dry and sort of satiny like rose petals.
See? One flower per stalk. Flowers that point downwards like this are called nodding flowers. You can clearly see the interior parts of the plant in this shot that’s one of my favorites of the project. No, I didn’t pull the petal off, I found it that way. I’m told lots of pollinators love them including honey and bumble bees, flies and even ants since I’ve seen several with ants on them. When they’re pollinated the inside of the flower, which becomes a tiny fruit, turns pink. Also as the flowers age, they lose the pipe shape they’re named for and stand straight and tall. Here’s a shot of one looking right down at it. I love the abstract weirdness of it.
So what’s a plant without chlorophyll to do for food? Remember that skeevy neighbor you had that told you how you too could steal cable? Yeah, kind of like that. The indian pipe practices epiparasitism. No not an east-Indian mysticism, but a parasitic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi. It breaks down like this. American beech, white pine and eastern hemlock trees are big, shady and produce a lot of leaf litter that in turn becomes humus, an organically rich soil. The mycorrhizal fungi really like this kind of soil. They move right in. Then along come the indian pipes. With a shallow and delicate root system they basically tap into the root systems of the fungus and surrounding trees and steal their cable.
Here’s a close up of that 4-petal flower that shows the structure even more clearly –
Because of this dependence and the delicate root structure of the flowers, they cannot be transplanted and do not propagate easily. Many times I’d come across some of last year’s flowers with no new ones coming up beside them which seems pretty sad. I guess something happened to disrupt the chain. I was bummed, too, because one of the shots in my head was of new and old together. Attempts were made, but the results were crap, so maybe that’s for next year. I love the way the flowers eventually turn to little brown sticks. Wicked hard to photograph though.
Yeah, so there are still shots in my head that I have yet to take. Like a better one in snow than the one I have. It will be devilish trying to pull it off though considering the contrast issues. But I’ll try.
Oh and what would a ghostly pale flower be if not an excellent black and white subject. Here are some that I love for the texture and mystery they evoke.
Well I hope you liked my mini project and maybe even you’ve fallen under the spell of these ghostly beauties. Keep an eye out next July and August if you’re up north and maybe June if you’re in the south and you just might spy your own ethereal indian pipes.