MadSci Network: Botany

Re: Are there any plants that do not produce/release oxygen?

Date: Thu Oct 4 20:44:16 2001
Posted By: David Hershey, Faculty, Botany, NA
Area of science: Botany
ID: 1002221758.Bt

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.


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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