My favorite ghost appeared in the woods last week: the ghost flower.

A cluster of several of the 6-inch-tall plants appeared where they had not been a day or two before, pushing up through the leafy forest floor.

More commonly known as Indian pipe, ghost flower seems the more appropriate of its names. (Corpse flower, another, is a bit excessive.)

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The flowers come and go quickly and unexpectedly, like an apparition, and the entirety of the plant is white, almost translucent looking and truly ghostly.

The name Indian pipe comes from its supposed resemblance to a clay pipe stuck in the ground. But with the delicate flowers drooping downward, it's hard to see the comparison.

What the ghost flower looks like at first glance is a fungus, one of the many pale growths on the moist ground at this time of year.

A closer look reveals the petals and all of the usual parts of a flower, although the leaves have been reduced to mere scales.

What the ghost flower lacks is chlorophyll, the green substance nearly all plants use to turn sunlight into energy and food. The flower does without the sun and behaves more like a fungus.

Some fungi thrive in the soil, where they have a mutually beneficial relationship with tree and plant roots. The fungus helps the plants absorb water and minerals, and the tree provides carbohydrates to the fungus.

The ghost flower joins the relationship by connecting to the fungus as if it were a plant ready to share.

Instead, it just takes the nutrients, an odd case of a plant parasitizing a fungus.

Like a true flower, however, the Indian pipe produces nectar that attracts insects, which pollinate the flowers and allow it to produce tiny seed pods.

These sprout and grow underground until next year, when from June through September, they rise as ghostly flowers again.

Bird sightings

Richard Ireton had an albino robin in his Bass River Township yard this summer, in the company of its ordinary, red-breasted peers. Ireton said that in his more than 75 years, he had never seen such a bird. Albinism, a genetic defect in pigment production, is rare, especially when it results in a complete lack of color.

Jay Hannum and his wife were reading The Press one morning recently when he heard a barred owl in his Egg Harbor Township neighborhood. He happened to have a barred owl call, since he's a turkey hunter, so he got the call and was able to lure the owl to his front yard. There the bird stayed for 20 minutes until Hannum tried to get a better look at it and it flew away.

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