Garden of Horrors: Monotropa uniflora

Garden of Horrors: Monotropa uniflora

Usually, when I put one of these together, we all get to make stink-faces and act terrified by some weird plant or fungi. In the past, I’ve shared this horrific mushroom thing, trees that bleed red, and this ugly worm-like fungus. Today’s plant is a little different. It’s not that terrifying visually, but when you realize how downright weird it is, you’ll see why it’s a candidate for this series. Meet Monotopa uniflora, the ghost plant.

Ghost plants
Ghost plants, photo by O18 shared on English Wikipedia

They’re pretty to look at; Emily Dickinson reportedly loved them. Usually white, occasionally flecked, these plants can also come in pinks and reds if the conditions are right. And conditions matter to Monotropa uniflora. This mysterious fella is classified as an ephemeral (just like ghosts); it only shows up when moisture follows a dry period.

But, it gets much weirder. You see the ghost plant doesn’t need the sun to grow, and because of that, it can easily grow in very dark places (just like ghosts.) The plant—and this is a plant, it has roots, seeds, and flowers—contains no chlorophyll, which is why it’s most often white (again, just like a ghost.)

"Ghost Plant" by qkjosh is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“Ghost Plant” by qkjosh is licensed under CC BY 2.0

We love creepy parasitic plants around here, and the ghost plant is also a parasite, but it doesn’t grow by feeding off other plants. Instead, the ghost plant feeds on fungi that are mycorrhizal with the trees in old growth forests (as far as I know, ghosts don’t do this, but you never know.)

Some people call these “Indian pipes,” but those people are wrong. This is the ghost plant. Take all of this evidence: growing in the dark, usually white and even translucent in places, rejecting the notion of the sun, spooky, and parasitic. That’s all very ghostly stuff—ghost plant is a much more fitting common name.

I mentioned earlier that Emily Dickenson loved the ghost plant, in a letter to a friend she once said, “That without suspecting it you should send me the preferred flower of life, seems almost supernatural…” which is a lovely thing to say about the little creeps.

Despite appearances, I think it’s pretty easy to see why the Monotropa uniflora belongs in our garden of horrors.

☠️ More Garden of Horrors

Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →

Shirley Jackson

Use Fear

“I have always loved to use fear, to take it and comprehend it and make it work and consolidate a situation where I was afraid and take it whole and work from there.”

Shirley Jackson

Most of us have read Jackson’s famous short story, The Lottery. But, since it’s October and the perfect season for spooky reading, I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, easily one of the greatest ghost stories ever written.


Where in the World was K. M. Alexander... Whidbey Island!

Trip Report – Whidbey

In celebration of our fifteen-year anniversary, Kari-Lise and I skipped town for a few days and did a bit of exploring in our backyard. Our destination was Whidbey Island, located centrally in the Puget Sound, a short drive north of Seattle.

The Captain Whidbey's sign—I'm a sucker for old hand-painted signs like this.
I’m a sucker for hand-painted signs and The Captain Whidbey’s didn’t disappoint.

We have been to Whidbey before, usually to hike the always exceptional Ebey’s Landing, but we’ve never spent much time on the island. We wanted to change that and ended up finding a weird 111-year-old inn (yeah, same age as Bilbo Baggins) on Penn Cove called The Captain Whidbey that became our home for a few days.

We came onto the island via the highway that crosses Deception Pass and connects Whidbey Island to Fidalgo Island and the mainland. We hung out there for a few hours and took a quiet walk along the beach before we made our way to the hotel. After settling in, we found ourselves a short drive from Coupeville, a teeny fishing village that has been around since the 1850s. It also resides alongside Penn Cove, and its little waterfront is a great spot to grab a bite, especially if you like mussels and shellfish.

Deception Pass viewed from Macs Cove on the north side of Whidbey Island
Deception Pass viewed from Macs Cove on the north side of Whidbey Island

The second day, we walked on the ferry that runs from Keystone Landing to Port Townsend and spent most of the day there. Taking the ferry is a great way to visit the town, which is easily one of my favorite places in Western Washington. A lot of history there, it’s nearly as old as Coupeville and full of ornate Victorian architecture.

At one time there was a hope it’d become the largest seaport in Washington, but today it’s mostly focused on tourism. That said, it’s picturesque, quite chill, and full of places to explore and eat. While there I met an old woman who was sitting outside her apartment listening to a folk band, and she told me how every building in town was haunted and how you can see all the ghosts during thunderstorms because of the static electricity in the air. GHOST SCIENCE.

We returned to Whidbey that afternoon. Right next to the Keystone Landing is Fort Casey, a decommissioned U. S. Army emplacement designed and built to protect the Puget Sound and the Bremerton Navy Yard around the 1890s. The Pacific Northwest is dotted with these little emplacements and they come in all shapes and sizes and in various states of dilapidation. I haven’t seen one as intact and explorable as Fort Casey. Poking around was fun. We climbed ladders, checked out the disappearing guns, and dared ourselves to delve into the deep spaces within the fort that our tiny cell-phone lights couldn’t penetrate.

Fort Casey huddled behind its bluff

Our last day consisted of exploring a rhododendron forest garden, a little art farm that also sold cheese, and a quiet drive south where we caught the ferry to the mainland. It was a good trip. I read a book, we both relaxed, and we came away knowing Whidbey a bit better. All in all, it was a lovely little flash-vacation, and I’m glad I got to spend it with my favorite person. You can check out a few photos from the trip below.

Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →

Bruce Pennington

Friday Link Pack – Halloween

It’s Halloween and it’s Friday! That means it’s time to share a few spooooky links I’ve found over the last few days. Some of these I mention on Twitter, if you’re not already following me there, please do! Have a link I should feature in the upcoming link pack? Let me know! All right, let’s get to it.


The Biggest Little-Known Influence On H. P. Lovecraft
Lovecraft has influenced numerous horror/thriller/fantasy writers for generations, but who influenced him? The Airship looks into the writer M. R. James.

On Writing Horror And Avoiding Cliches
Writing horror isn’t easy, so Chris Freese has put together this article to help you craft proper scares for your readers.

How To Write A Modern Ghost Story
The Guardian asks, how does one write for an audience that is cynical, yet still wishes to be terrified? It’s a good question and one of the biggest challenges for the modern horror writer.

The Top 20 Greatest Horror Writers of All-Time
Who was the best of the scare? Mania pulls together a list and there’s a lot of big names on it. I’m pretty please to see who came in as number one.


The Art Of Bruce Pennington
I’m a big fan of 70s cover art. There’s something earnest about it. If you want to see some of the best check out the work of Bruce Pennington. He’s created a wide range of covers from macabre to the futuristic visions of science fiction.

The Bus by Paul Kirchner
I absolutely love this series of comics about a man and a bus. They’re more surreal than scary but they have that sort of Twilight Zone weirdness that makes them perfect for this time of year.

Mayokero Music Video
This music video by Israeli artist Roy Kafri takes classic album covers and brings them to life. It’s not really spooky, but it’s downright cool.


A Graphic Guide To Cemetery Symbolism
Great infographic from the fine folks over at Atlas Obscura explaining the meaning of common gravestone designs.

10 Scientific Explanations For Ghostly Phenomena
For the skeptics. Listverse explores 10 perfectly rational explanations for the spooky behavior people witness.

When The Stars Are Right…
A site attempting to set a definitive time line to the events portrayed in the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos. Mythos fans will love it.

Lovecraft Story of the Week:

The Thing On The Doorstep
A man makes a case why he’s not a murderer despite sending six-bullets through the head of his friend. His bizarre reasoning won’t be what you think.

Gif of the Week:

Have a happy Halloween everyone!