Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Sweet Pinesap - Monotropsis odorata   Schweinitz ex Elliott
Members of Ericaceae:
Only member of Monotropsis in NC.
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Section 6 » Order Ericales » Family Ericaceae
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AuthorSchweinitz ex Elliott
DistributionEssentially throughout the Mountains and foothills of the western Piedmont. Widely scattered over nearly the rest of the Piedmont, but seemingly absent in the southeastern Piedmont and in the far northeastern Piedmont. Likely scarce in the higher elevations of the northern Mountains.

This has a fairly restricted range, as the G3 Global Rank would suggest. It is centered on the southern Appalachians, ranging north to MD and WV and south to north-central GA and central AL. It is absent in the Atlantic Coastal Plain.
AbundanceUncommon and easily overlooked, at lower elevations of the Mountains and western Piedmont. Rare to absent in the higher elevations, however. Farther eastward, generally rare east to the Triangle region (Orange, Durham, and Wake counties). Not known from the Coastal Plain. This is a Significantly Rare species.
HabitatThis species grows on strongly acidic soils of bluffs or slopes, typically near tall ericads such as Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) or Rosebay Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum). The forested canopy can be pines or hardwoods.
PhenologyThe species most often blooms in late winter or early spring, often before hardwood leaves appear -- February to April; however, it may bloom in the fall, such as from September to November. It typically fruits about two months after flowering.
IdentificationAs with its cousins in the genera Monotropa and Hypopitys, it is also saprophytic and lacks chlorophyll. However, this species is much shorter than them, with relatively larger flowers. The entire plant is often just 1.5-4 inches tall; plants emerging in late winter tend to be yellowish or tawny in color, with several drooping purplish flowers; the leaves are closely appressed to the stem, such that the entire plant is a tiny "seahorse" shape. Plants that emerge in fall are somewhat lavender in color, but still have purplish flowers. This tiny species is often covered by fallen leaves and can thus be hard to spot, but it has a distinctive fragrance that some people (but certainly not all) can detect just by their noses! Thankfully, as with the other saprophytic species named above, it almost always grows in very tight clusters of plants, often 5-25 plants growing in just a few square-inches. Finding the species, without locating a known colony, is a thrilling experience. However, oftentimes, the population you find will be one in fruit, being rather blackened and with the capsule erect, rather than drooping.
Taxonomic CommentsNone as a species, but RAB (1968) and perhaps other references named varieties for the plants blooming in late winter (var. odorata) as opposed to those blooming in the fall (var. lehmaniae). Weakley (2018) does not consider varieties to be warranted.

Other Common Name(s)Pygmy-pipes, Appalachian Pygmy-pipes
State RankS3
Global RankG3
State StatusSR-O
US Status
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Photo Gallery
Jimmy RandolphOcconneechee Mountain SNA, in Mountain Laurel thicket, 18 March 2023. OrangePhoto_natural
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