It turns out that the seed-pods that I found last winter in my backyard were, indeed, Indian pipe! This is the most mysterious plant I have ever come across. Because of its otherworldly white color and brief flowering, it looks like a mushroom. It used to be thought that this plant just lived off of decaying plant matter. It has no chlorophyll, but instead gets its energy from a fungus, which in turn lives in symbiosis with the roots of a few types of tree roots. Monotropa uniflora appears to be a parasite on this fungus, but there is some speculation that at some point in its life-cycle it may exist in some sort of symbiosis with the fungus. (Alas, I did not bookmark the source of that information back when I found it.)
Because of the ticks and poison ivy and my pregnancy, I didn’t venture into my back yard this summer until too late. The Indian pipe had returned this year – hooray! But all that remained was a fresh patch of seed-pods.
However, I did come across another patch of the plant about a quarter mile away while pushing the baby in the stroller. This patch was in a surprisingly exposed area, right next to the sidewalk, and it apparently had waited a bit later to bloom. Unfortunately I waited a couple of days to return with the camera, so the edges of the plant were already starting to go black.
A week or two later, and the heads of the flowers had turned upwards as they make their transformation into seed-pods.
Getting the photos was a bit awkward, because the property is just on the other side of a hedge from a house where there never fail to be children in the yard. I am afraid the parents might have been suspicious of the strange woman crouching behind a bush with a camera in hand. Thus the blur, as I hastily snapped the photos and fled.