Sarcodes sanguinea


Photograph by Jim Norton.

Photography contest, Honorable Mention.


Sarcodes sanguinea – snow plant, a saprophytic plant with no chlorophyll. King’s Canyon National Park, California, July 3, 2010.


A lot prettier than animal parasites.

Although, if plants had evolved aesthetics they’d probably view it as hideous.

Glen Davidson

As a non-scientist I had to look up saprophytic (on the Net of course). The way I interpret the results is that the snow plant is a saprophyte - a plant that feeds on dead stuff. It’s saprotrophic - gets it’s nutrition from dead stuff. But saprophytic describes something that is like a plant feeding on dead stuff. So this is like saying a ball is ball-like. Or do I need to update the Net? (or get a life :) )

There is a group of non-green flowering plants that is related to the heaths (blueberries, cranberries, rhododendrons) and is often included in the heath family (Ericaceae). This group of non-green plants is a subset of the heath family. Let’s call them the monotropoids. Are they parasites? Yes, but in an unusual way. The monotropoids were thought to be “saprophytes.” A saprophyte lives on dead plant or animal material, but the monotropoids don’t do that. They are parasites on fungi, we can call them mycoparasites. But they don’t kill the fungi. The fungi infect the short, stubby roots of the monotropoids, and transfer food and water into the roots. The fungi live in the dense litter of dead leaves in wet forests.[…]anguinea.php

Interesting thing.

Glen Davidson

I’ll put on my pedant’s hat and point out that there are no known saprophytic plants. The term is still used frequently to describe these kinds of plants, but it is incorrect. The monotropoids and similar leafless or non-green orchids are best described as being mycoheterotrophs, where nutrients normally derived from photosynthesis travel from a host plant through a soil fungus and into the mycoheterotrophic plant. Those that still rely on photosynthesis to some degree (green stems) are called mixotrophs. This is entirely different from plants that directly parasitize other plants, such as dodder.

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