Are Orchids Parasites?I Bet This Will Surprise you!

Orchids are one of the most resilient plants, often debated for being a part of parasites or not. Today let's find an answer to this debate.

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Kelly Adams

June 13, 2021

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Orchids are a beautiful species of plants often debated and confused for being a parasite. However, most people call it a parasite due to its epiphytic nature. So, what’s the truth behind all this debate of being a parasite? Or Are there only specific species of orchids that are parasitic? Today, I will answer all these questions as we dig deep into this myth and finally get an answer. So, let’s start our today’s article!

This is one major misconception as most are epiphytes rather than a parasite. The only parasitic natured orchid is from the genus Corallorhiza, which are found very rarely and are found in the wild.

What is an orchid?

White orchid flower

Orchid is a type of flowering plant from the Orchidaceae family. This family is the largest family among flowering plants with over 28,000 different species. Orchids are most popular due to their variety of colors and variants. These are often associated with tropical landscapes, but that’s not entirely true as species of orchids are found all over the Earth except Antarctica.

What is a parasite?

Parasitic plants are plants that acquire partial or complete nutrition from another living plant. Parasitic plants have a built penetrating root system called haustoria, which allows them to penetrate the host plant. They connect to the other plants through this system and obtain the required nutritional requirements. Parasitic plants are classified into various categories based on their nutritional needs and where it penetrates the host plant.

So, to classify orchids or even discuss this topic, we need to check the classifications of various parasites. Parasitic plants are classified as :

  1. Obligate parasite: This can’t complete its life cycle without a host
  2. facultative parasite: This can complete its life cycle without a host.
  3. Stem parasite: These parasites latch on to the stem of their host plant.
  4. Root parasite: These parasites latch on to the root of their host plant.
  5. Hemiparasitic plant: These are part photosynthetic and part parasitic in normal conditions.
  6. Holoparasitic plant: These lack carbon and derive this lacking carbon from their hosts. These lack chlorophyll and can often be found in colors that are not green.

Are orchids parasites?

This is one of the biggest misconceptions regarding orchids, as most people conclude this because of orchids’ epiphytic nature. Some orchids that are considered parasitic are called parasitic as they rely on fungi to provide them food, but these don’t harm the hosts. The only parasitic natured orchid is from the genus Corallorhiza, which are found very rarely and are found in the wild.

Three major schools of thought and themes when discussing orchids as a parasite are their epiphytic nature, parasitic orchids are relying on fungi and genus Corallorhiza.

1. Epiphytic nature

Many species of orchids are epiphytes meaning they live on top of a tree. This simply refers to their mechanism of attaching themselves to the top of tree branches or bushes. Being on top allows them to absorb the maximum amount of nutrition and moisture from the air necessary for their proper growth. They are also called air plants due to this reason.

So, these species of orchids don’t take nutrition from the tree but receive all their nutrition from their surroundings. They live on top to get the best nutrients from their surroundings. Therefore, this type of orchids can never be classified as a parasite.

2. Parasitic orchids

These are some species of orchids that are considered to be parasitic only because of their reliance on fungi for specific needs. These are the species of orchids that can’t create their own food through photosynthesis. Therefore, these species simply rely on fungi to create food for them.

As compared to the last one, these are somewhat closer to the definition of parasitic orchid. But as compared to parasites like mistletoe that actually damage their hosts, these just cling on and survive till a certain stage rather than provide harm to their host

3. Corallorhiza

Now in last, this is a specific genus of orchids that completely fits the definition of parasites. These are considered to be parasites or semi-parasites. But the important thing to note here is this even these are very rare to find and can only found in the wild. These feed off their hosts and do damage to them, but as I concluded, these are really rare to find.

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Concluding thoughts

For today’s article, our primary focus was, is an orchid a parasite or not? I started today’s article by defining all related terms and specified the rule of thumb for including a plant in the parasitic category. I also explained multiple classifications of parasitic plants.

From there on, I broke down our main query into 3 sections starting from Epiphytic natured orchids and those orchids which rely on fungi, and for the 3rd part, I defined a completely parasitic category of orchids. I finalized my today’s article by recommending some valuable products. I hope you were able to get an ideal answer to your question.

That’s all from my side for today. If you are a beginner and want to grow some easy to care succulents, then you should check these succulents for beginners.

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By Kelly Adams

Easy Succulents Founder

My name is Kelly and I'm the the founder of Easy Succulents! I'm fascinated by this wonderful plants and I want to share with the world everything I know about them!

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Kelly Adams Picture

Kelly Adams

Easy Succulents Founder

My name is Kelly and I'm the the founder of Easy Succulents! I'm fascinated by this wonderful plants and I want to share with the world everything I know about them!



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