Parasitic plants

Not all plants live only on sunlight and photosynthesis, some of them are carnivorous and others are parasites. Come and visit parasitic plants of our flora and let yourself be amazed by these strange forms of life.

In the same way that many plants establish an interaction with animals or fungi, there are also some plants that establish a close relationship with other plants. They are parasitic or HOLOPARASITE (total parasites) plants that have completely lost their photosynthetic function. The leaves are unnecessary and are reduced to small yellowish scales or have disappeared completely. Leaf perspiration is nil and water transport organs, such as xylem, are very reduced or do not exist, as are the roots. The parasitic plants developed special suction organs, which penetrate the conductive bundles of the host plant, the haustoria, which use the organic matter synthesized by the host directly from the phloem, so there is no need to perform the photosynthetic function.

One of these parasites, perhaps the best known, is the Rafflesia of the tropical rainforests of Borneo and Samatra. It produces the largest flower in the world, whose diameter reaches up to 1m and yet its entire life cycle is reduced to a network of filaments hidden inside the host plant. In the Mediterranean climate there are also some parasites of this type such as Cytinus hipocistis , a specific parasite of the Cistaceas family, species that are very abundant throughout the Mediterranean. Cytinus hipocistis develops its entire life cycle inside the root of its hosts and only at the time of flowering, which coincides with that of the host plant, from February / March, small reddish flower buds that open in clusters stand out at ground level of small orange yellow flowers.

Cytinus hipocistis – Family of Rafflesiaceae

Fleshy holoparasites. Small reddish-yellow plants, very short stems with densely overlapping scaly leaves. Subsessile flowers gathered in a dense cluster with male and female flowers. Parasite on the roots of Cistáceas throughout the country. They were widely used in folk medicine in the past as an astringent. Common name: pútegas or curdled.

(Ana I. Correia, Location – Ribeira Below, April 1982)


Another of the rarest plants in the Mediterranean, which grows in sandy areas near the sea is Cynomorium coccineum, which in Portugal is only found in the Algarve. On the island of Malta, where it was very abundant, it is called a Maltese fungus although it is not really a fungus, but an authentic plant. Most of its life is underground and takes its food from the root of the tamarisk tree. At this stage of its life cycle, it is reduced to a stem from which numerous suckers grow, which connect it to the roots of the host plant. The leaves reduced to a small number of tiny scales on the surface of the stem. In summer, thick spikes rise a few centimeters above the ground and are covered by a large amount of tiny red flowers so close together that they look like very rough skin. Some are male flowers, some female, and still others have an ovary and stamens.


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