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saprophyte(săp`rəfīt'), any plant that depends on dead plant or animal tissue for a source of nutrition and metabolic energy, e.g., most fungi (molds) and a few flowering plants, such as Indian pipe and some orchids. Most saprophytes do not produce chlorophyll and therefore do not photosynthesize; they are thus dependent on the food energy they absorb from the decaying tissues, which they help to break down.
a plant that feeds on the organic matter of dead organisms or on the excrement of living organisms. Their type of feeding places saprophytes in the group of heterotrophic organisms. Saprophytes and autotrophic organisms play an important role in the cycle of matter in nature; saprophytes promote the decomposition of carcasses and animal excrement into water, carbon dioxide, ammonia, and other inorganic compounds.
Saprophytes are found mainly among bacteria, actinomy-cetes, and fungi. Typical algal saprophytes are Polytoma of the family Chlamydomonadinaceae and Prototheca of the family Protococcales. Some saprophytes transfer to a parasitic mode of existence. A number of photosynthesizing organisms, such as some green algae, may also feed saprophytically.
Flowering plants of the families Pyrolaceae, Orchidaceae, and Burmanniaceae are sometimes considered as saprophytes, but it is more accurate to regard them as mycotrophic parasitic plants. The plants receive nutrient matter from the soil via a mycorrhizal fungus, and they are also marked by photosynthesis.
E. S. TEREKHIN