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Ghost Plants

Corpse Plant

"Corpse plant" or "Indian pipe" Family: Monotropaceae Genus: Monotropa (mah-no-TROH-puh) (Info) Species: uniflora (yoo-nee-FLOR-uh) (Info) Synonym: Monotropa brittonii

When the Halloween season rolls around, my entire neighborhood is festooned with spider webs, witches hanging in front of windows, and pumpkins all over the place. Some houses even have the not so traditional Halloween tree! Lots of orange ornaments.

Of course, this is our version of the day of the dead. I’m reminded of the old Celtic prayer –

“From Ghoulies and Ghosties

and long-leggedy beasties,

and things that go

bump in the night

saints preserve us!”

Those Celts did not take scary things lightly.

It made me think about plants that could indicate ghosts. I checked out a few dozen websites, and found that there are quite a few. Some, we’d only be able to use indoors, or hang pictures of them, but they’re so remarkable, I had to talk about them.  

Like the Ghost plant.

This is also called Corpse plant, and Indian pipe, but the scientific name is Monotropa uniflora. I’d always thought of it as an interesting-looking fungus, but even stranger, it’s not. With no green at all, it’s a completely parasitic plant, one that occupies the space between a particular type of tree and a particular type of fungus. The tree and fungus benefit each other, but the parasite takes all of its nutrients from the poor, hardworking fungus!

Since it lives in the deep shade of moist woodlands and doesn’t transplant well, we can’t really grow it here.

Dendrophylax lindenii is commonly known as “Ghost orchid” and it is white.  Another common name for it is “Bat orchid”. This Florida native might be a good Halloween houseplant if it weren’t an endangered species.

Those of us who can provide a cool, shady spot could try growing Hosta “Ghost Spirit”, which is a pretty landscape plant that doesn’t remind me of anything ghostly.

The Ghost Tree, Davidia involucrata, is also known as the dove tree or handkerchief tree. It’s a little tender for Nevada conditions, but very pretty. The white flowers look a bit like dove wings fluttering. If you ever get the chance to read the poignant Chinese story, you’ll see the name’s origin.

But there’s a Ghost plant, Graptopetalum paraguayense, that couldn’t be more different from the other ghost plant. This is why it’s such a good idea to call things by their scientific names. This little succulent plant looks like it belongs in a rock garden. We can grow it here, since it tolerates desert conditions. Don’t quite know how it became a ghost plant since it’s not even white, but there you are!


Drought tolerant “White Ghost Cactus” isn’t a cactus at all, but a euphorbia. You might hear it called “dragon bones”. Its proper name is Euphorbia lactea.  It looks much like a pale cactus, and it will grow in hot, dry conditions.

Mohavea confertiflora, aka “Ghost Flower”, is a spring-blooming desert native. I’ve never seen it in the wild, but having a name that includes Mohave, it’s a good bet that it does grow in Southern Nevada. The flowers are white and translucent, hence the name “ghost”.

Sea holly is Eryngium giganteum. There’s a cultivar is known as “Miss Willmott’s Ghost”. What an interesting plant. It has green flowers with white bracts. It’s named after an eccentric gardener (aren’t we all?) who would drop the seeds in gardens without letting anyone know. After she visited, the plants appeared out of nowhere, hence the name. While I haven’t seen this, we can definitely grow it, assuming the publicity is correct. It claims ‘Miss Willmott’ can tolerate and thrive in our droughty, salty, infertile, alkaline conditions. Definitely worth a try.

Over the past few years, people have been talking about ghost peppers, even if they’re not eating them. These are the peppers that are many times hotter than habaneros. They ripen to a pretty red, and like so many peppers, they’re easy to grow. Just handle them at your peril, and keep them away from curious trick-or-treaters.

So, try thinking about your next Halloween garden. There are so many plants worth using for your haunted house; plants that can survive tough conditions, and bloom at different times. Your display won’t be much like any others in the neighborhood, that’s for sure!

For KNPR’s Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O’Callaghan of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Enjoy your Halloween season!