Plant Graded

Are Orchids Considered Parasites?

There is something strangely fascinating about orchids. For the longest time, these plants have been a beloved favorite among many gardeners in many parts of the world thanks to their beauty and delicate appearance. But many people also nurse many misconceptions about these beauties.

are orchids considered parasites

For instance, some folks seem to think that orchids are parasitic. Are orchids considered parasites in the first place? The simple and straight answer is no, orchids are and shouldn’t be considered parasites. They may only seem to be, but the truth is, they are not.

Are Orchids Parasites?

The confusing nature and characteristics of orchids are probably the reason why many people often mistake them for parasitic plants. After all, orchids grow and feed off on other plants. This action is the same as what parasites do as they also grow and feed off of their hosts. However, there is a big difference between orchids and real parasites.

What are Parasites?

The term parasite in the biological context refers to an organism living on or in another organism called the host, Parasites benefit by acquiring nutrients at the expense of the host.

It is uncommon for parasites to kill off their hosts. However, they can reduce the ability of the host to compete for essential resources, eventually killing them. Some parasites can also be transmitted between hosts.

You can also frequently see parasites among animals and even plants. Parasitic plants are plants that derive all or some of their key nutritional requirements from other living plants.

The host is often considered the victim, and most of the time, it can incur a loss or suffer some form of injury as the result of having a parasitic plant living off it.

Can You Consider Orchids Parasites?

You can find over 20,000 orchid species displaying a wide array of growth habits. These include terrestrials, saprophytes, lithophytes, and epiphytes.

Even though orchids are often called and considered parasitic plants, these beauties are not true parasites. Yes, they do grow on other trees. However, they do so without harming the trees or plants where they grow in.

Epiphytes absorb nutrients and water from the rainwater and air instead of other plants. Photosynthesis alone helps them derive food.

Simply put, orchids don’t suck out the life of their hosts, unlike true parasites. Instead, the host is only used by these beauties for support purposes.

Common Orchid Species and How They Grow

The family Orchidaceae has an extensive variety of species, and you can find them almost all over the world. Some orchids are terrestrial, which means they grow in soil. Other orchids are epiphytes or grow on trees. You can also find saprophytes that live on decaying matter and lithophytes or orchids that grow on rocks.

In addition, orchids can also be sympodial or monopodial. Monopodial species are orchids that grow along one stalk. Sympodial species, on the other hand, for new growths at the plant’s base.

Epiphyte Orchids

Most orchids in nature are epiphytes. This means they grow and thrive on trees without necessarily relying on them for food. They use their roots instead to attach to the tree branches and acquire nutrients from rainwater, air, and organic debris falling through the leaves.

Lithophyte Orchids

These orchids are those that grow on rocks. The roots of lithophyte orchids attach themselves to the cracks in rocks and other organic matter that accumulated there between rains.

Parasitic Orchids

Several orchids are known for using haustoria, the specialized structures that can penetrate their host’s bark. However, this process is a complex one that requires several years of development before succeeding.

The moment penetration takes place, the orchid acquires nutrients and sugars from the host. But no evidence shows that any orchid can make its host die.

Terrestrial Orchids

Some species of orchids also grow in the soil just like other plants. These orchids have roots that allow them to absorb nutrients from the nearby sol and acquire water from the ground. Terrestrial orchids require regular watering just like other terrestrial plants. However, just make sure that you don’t overwater them.

Saprophyte Orchids

These orchids are photosynthetic, which means they require sunlight for survival. However, they cannot depend on photosynthesis alone just to get all the nutrients they need. Orchids of this type have come up with a method to get around it by breaking down organic matter.

What are Parasitic Plants?

A parasitic plant derives all or some of its nutritional requirements from the host, which is another living plant. These plants germinate, attach to their host plant, and acquire nutrients and water from the host plant.

This kind of interaction is not the same as mutualism where both species take advantage of each other or even commensalism wherein one organism is unaffected while the other benefits.

Parasitism occurs when one organism derives nourishment from the other without offering the latter any benefit in exchange. Parasitic plants are categorized into hemiparasites and holoparasites.

Holoparasites fully rely on the host for nutrients and water, while hemiparasites acquire part of the nutrients from the host.

The following are some of the most common parasitic plants:

Australian Christmas Tree

This parasitic plant can be found in Western Australia. It is a woody vine growing and extracting nutrients from trees. It relies on the host for minerals and water.

Corpse Flower

The earth’s largest single flower is a parasitic plant without visible roots, stems, or leaves. It is a flowering plant that gives off a strong smell of rotting flesh. It grows up to a height of 10 feet and is native to Sumatra.

Dodder (Cuscuta Sp.)

Another parasitic plant growing all over the world, dodder uses haustoria to attach itself to other plants. Once attached, it absorbs food from its host by stealing its nutrients and water.


Being a hemiparasite or half or partial parasite, the mistletoe only acquires one kind of resource from the host: minerals and water. It has green leaves that it uses to produce food through photosynthesis.

Thurber’s Stemsucker

With a length of just 0.25 inches, Thurber’s stemsucker lives completely in the stem tissues of the host. It lacks chlorophyll, leaves, and roots.

The Bottom Line

Orchids are not parasites because they don’t absorb any water or nutrients from the host plant.