Pictorial Guide to the Flora of the British Isles

Holoparasitic and saprophytic plants

A small number of plants have abandoned photosynthesis and instead gain all their nutrition from other organisms. Those that steal from other plants are called holoparasitic, whereas those that steal from soil fungi are called saprophytic. Such plants are easily recognised by their lack of green pigmentation. Within the British and Irish flora, they can be found in four separate families.


Yellow bird’s-nest / Monotropa hypopitys

Hypopitys monotropa is our only saprophytic member of the Ericaceae.

Dodder / Cuscuta epithymum

Cuscuta epithymum is one of our three dodder species, all climbers in the Convolvulaceae.

Knapweed broomrape / Orobanche elatior

Orobanche elatior is one of our broomrapes and toothworts in the family Orobanchaceae.

Bird’s-nest orchid / Neottia nidus-avis

Neottia nidus-avis is one of two saprophytic orchids found in the British Isles.

L-R: Bidens tripartita, Melilotus officinalis, Mimulus guttatus, Thalictrum flavum, Ranunculus peltatus, Anchusa arvensis, Malva alcea, Lolium perenne