|MadSci Network: Botany|
Yes, there are about 3,400 species of parasitic or partly parasitic plants and about 20% of those lack chlorophyll so they cannot produce oxygen, which is a byproduct of photosynthesis. Parasitic plants lack normal roots but have a specialized structure called a haustorium that attaches them to their host plant. Parasitic plants that lack chlorophyll include dodder and the world's largest flower at about 3 feet across, Rafflesia arnoldii, with the catchy common name of stinking corpse lily. Some familiar parasitic plants, such as mistletoe, do not lack chlorophyll, so can photosynthesize and produce oxygen. They mainly steal water and mineral nutrients from their hosts. There are also plants that are often called saprophytes because they were thought to obtain their energy from dead organic matter. It now appears that no plant obtains its energy directly from dead organic matter. They actually obtain their energy via a fungus in their roots so are more accurately termed myco-heterophytes. The myco-heterophytes lack chlorophyll. The fungus in their roots either gets energy from soil organic matter or, most often, from another plant. Therefore, the myco-heterophyte is usually indirectly parasitic on another plant and termed an epiparasite. Myco-heterophytes include Indian pipe, snow plant, coralroots, underground orchid, beech drops, and bird's nest orchid. Many of these myco-heterophytes are native American wildflowers so you may be able to see some in your area. The tiny undergound gametophytes of whisk fern and some clubmosses are also myco-heterophytes. Another type of plant that lacks chlorophyll is an albino plant. Under natural conditions, albino plants will die as soon as the energy reserves in their seeds is exhausted. However, albino plants can be kept alive if the leaf tips are cut and fed a sugar solution. The last website cited has a photo of an albino corn plant being kept alive by being fed sugar through its leaves. Biological supply companies sell albino seeds. Plant tissue grown in sterile conditions in a laboratory in the dark will also produce no oxygen. This is a form of tissue culture. The tissue gets energy from sugar in the nutrient medium. Underground plant parts, such as roots, bulbs, tubers, and storage roots do not produce oxygen but depend on the aboveground photosynthetic parts for energy. Most seeds and nongreen fruits do not produce oxygen either. References Parasitic Plant Connection Dodder (Cuscuta species) The Stinking Corpse Lily: World's Largest Flower Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora) Indian Pipe Photos Snow Plant (Sarcodes sanguinea) Bird's Nest Orchid (Neottia nidus-avis) Underground Orchid (Rhizanthella gardneri) photo Summer Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata) Beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana) Introduction to the Psilotales, The Whisk Ferns Photo of Albino Corn Being Fed Sucrose Hershey, D.R. 1999. Myco-heterophytes and parasitic plants in food chains. American Biology Teacher. 61:575-578.
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