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4 Plants That Don't Have Chlorophyll

Errah is a bookwormy and logophilic writer and science & technology teacher. He often writes about scientific ideas, theories, and research.

Epifagus virginiana, a species of beech drop that does not contain chlorophyll.

Epifagus virginiana, a species of beech drop that does not contain chlorophyll.

The Purpose of Chlorophyll

Chlorophyll is unquestionably one of the most useful pigments for plants, due to its ability to absorb the solar energy that plants require in order to produce food. It is found in the chloroplasts, which are very small organelles in the plant's cells where photosynthesis occurs. Chlorophyll, which is all green in color, is present in every leaf cell as well as some stem cells. This is the reason why plants appear to be green.

Did you know that not all plants contain chlorophyll? Because these plants lack chlorophyll, they can’t absorb solar energy, and so they are unable to produce their own food. Instead, they are parasites that steal nutrients from other organisms which serve as their hosts. In this article, we'll talk about four plants that lack chlorophyll.

Four Plants Lacking Chlorophyll:

1. Rafflesia

2. Dodders

3. Broomrapes

4. Monotropes

A rafflesia infests a Tetrastigma.

A rafflesia infests a Tetrastigma.

1. Rafflesia

Rafflesia is a genus of parasitic plants belonging to the family Rafflesiaceae. These plants lack any discernible stems, leaves, or roots. They are only recognized for their enormous, single, five-petaled red flowers. The flowers can be measured up to three feet in diameter and the size varies depending on the species. That is roughly about the same size as a bicycle tire. They are, in fact, actually regarded as the largest individual flower in the world.

Rafflesias are also known as "corpse lilies" because of their unpleasant odor, which is akin to that of a decomposing corpse. The odor attracts flies and beetles, which usually pollinate them.

Rafflesias parasitize Tetrastigma, a genus of plants belonging to the grape family. They possess a haustorium or a root-like structure enabling them to penetrate the host's tissues and take up nutrients and water. Rafflesias are endemic to the tropical forests of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand.

Dodders have a hair-like or thread-like appearance.

Dodders have a hair-like or thread-like appearance.

2. Dodders

Dodder, also called Cuscuta, amarbel, wizard’s net, devil’s hair, hairweed, lady’s laces, strangle weed, goldthread, or witch’s hair, is a genus of creeping parasitic and nonphotosynthetic plant of the morning glory family. Chlorophylls are absent in the majority of dodder species, however, a few species do have them but are not active.

Dodders resemble golden hair or thread in appearance which is where they get their common names. They resemble tangles of very long and thin, golden hair-like, or thread-like strands twining around plants. Numerous, tiny flowers grow in a cluster along the stem. The flowers mature into a small, rough, spherical seedpod.

These vines can infest practically any plant, including trees, shrubs, and even grass. They can parasitize two or more kinds of plants simultaneously due to the outgrowth of haustoria in different parts of the stem.

Branched Broomrape

Branched Broomrape

3. Broomrapes

The broomrape is a family of plants consisting of 90 genera, the majority of which are parasitic and lack chlorophyll. Only a few genera have chlorophyll and engage in photosynthetic activity. They are typically small plants that are either herbs or shrubs with stout flowering stems.

Seeds are very small and light and can be easily transported by the wind over great distances. Broomrapes, therefore, have a greater probability to find new places to develop and new hosts for the parasitic ones. Parasitic and nonphotosynthetic broomrapes include ground cones, cancer-root, and beechdrops. They are usually attached to the roots of their host.

Broomrapes have no economic importance and are often regarded as pests. They wreak havoc on agricultural crops. Tomatoes, corn, potatoes, cabbages, eggplants, carrots, and legumes are commonly their hosts. Aside from that, they can also cause harm to endangered plants.

They have even become invasive species in many parts of the world. The population of broomrapes is difficult to manage because they can generate over a million seeds and those are easily dispersed. Seeds can even survive in an herbivore's digestive tract. Broomrapes are found all around the planet with the exception of Antarctica.

Other members of broomrapes are displayed in the photos below.

The gnome plant is the sole species in its genus, Hemitomes. It is an example of a monotrope.

The gnome plant is the sole species in its genus, Hemitomes. It is an example of a monotrope.

4. Monotropes

Monotroposes are an achlorophyllous plant subfamily in the heaths and blueberries family. They are mycoheterotrophic meaning they parasitize fungi rather than plants. Did you know that plants and fungi have a symbiotic relationship called mycorrhiza? This relationship allows plants and fungi to exchange food.

By using photosynthesis, plants make sugar that they share with fungi, while fungi obtain mineral nutrients from the soil and give them back to plants. On the other hand, and in the case of monotropes, they only steal mineral nutrients from fungi and don't provide anything in return. They occasionally even kill the fungi.

Monotropes don't have any leaves. They merely resemble a small stalk with flowers. The wintergreens, sweet pine saps (genus Monotropsis), giant bird's nest (genus Pterospora), snow plant (genus Sarcodes), gnome plant (genus Homitomes), and Indian pipe or ghost plant (genus Monotropa) are among the members of this subfamily. Monotropes are distributed throughout the Northern Hemisphere and especially in the coniferous forests.

Other members of this subfamily are displayed in the following photos.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Errah Caunca