Parasitic Plants

Parasitic Plants

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Chickgrass: An example of a parasitic plant.

Introduction (what they are)

To date it is known that over 4,000 plant species parasitize other plants. A life strategy that confers advantages. After all, parasitic plants save energy by sucking up water and nutrients from the tissues of the plants to which they attach.

When visiting a garden or a forest, we observe plants attached to the tree trunks, branches and branches. Some trees have many plants attached to them, others have one or very few. Are they all parasitic plants? No. Orchids and bromeliads, for example, are just colonizing a portion of the environment that is moist and has a soft intensity of light.

Main features and examples

The parasitic plants may be completely inside the parasitized plant. But they may also have structures designed for the surface of the host plant. There are two types:

- hemiparasites: they perform photosynthesis. Therefore, their leaves are green, producing the carbohydrate they need to sustain their growth and reproduction. This type of parasitic plant removes only water and minerals from the hosts. Example: bird weed (mistletoe).

- Holoparasites: They do not perform photosynthesis. Therefore, they remove carbohydrate, water and minerals from tree or shrub tissues. Example: basking beard.

The evolution of parasitic plants

Parasitic plants represent a transition from the autotrophic (livelihood, typical of the plant kingdom) to the heterotrophic (dependence on other livelihoods, typical of the animal kingdom) way of life. This passage required plants to experience morphological and physiological changes over time.

Parasites exert a natural selection force. Parasitized vegetables are forced to respond to aggression. After all, although cases of host death are rare, the constant removal of nutrients leads to poor functioning of the body. Those hosts that develop efficient responses are selected: they survive, spawn other individuals, and these individuals inherit the ability to respond efficiently.


A species of basking beard (Reflex cuscuta) is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine. It is believed to be able to treat conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, arthritis and promote hair growth.