SAPROPHYTIC PLANTS

A saprophyte is an organism that obtains its nutrtion from assimilating organic matter. Like the fungi, the saprophyte is a heterotroph, meaning that it does not make its own food.

Among the bizarre plants of the world are the nongreen, saprophytic angiosperms. Most familiar are the monotropoids, classified as their own family, Monotropaceae or, more recently, as subfamily Monotropoideae of the rhododendron family (Ericaceae). They inhabit temperate coniferous or mixed forests.

Amazingly, the majority of the species of Monotropoideae occur in California, and there are seven genera in the state. Perhaps amateurs may mistake these at first as being mushrooms, because they are white or colored pink, yellow, or red, but the mistake is easily corrected when the flowers are revealed.

The two species of Monotropa were named by Linnaeus, and especially Indian-pipe has been widely pictured in botany books as a beautiful example of a plant hat completely lacks chlorophyll.

There are also several species of orchids that are categorized as saprophytes, including species in the genus Corallorhiza [C. maculata plant and flower; C. stricta plant and flower].

Among the vascular plants that reproduce by spores instead of seeds, e.g., ferns, whisk fern, horsetails, and clubmosses, the tiny gametophytes of some species are saprophytic, living in association with fungi that aid in the uptake of water and nutrients. Sporophytic phases of the same plants are all autotrophic, i.e., photosynthetic organisms.

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