[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The sight and more often, the tendencies of parasitic flowers or plants may not be very appealing, and that’s where they get their name from. Plants with parasitic characteristics have the tendency to rob their host plants of their water, nutrition and food supply. There are over 4000 species of parasitic plants that use their roots (haustoria) to penetrate into the roots and shoots of the host plant to derive their nutritional requirements.Let us study the facts about atleast 5 parasitic flowers and their lifestyles.
The Corpse Flower
This parasitic flower is the world’s largest flower, which grows up to three-feet wide and weighs around six to seven kilograms. Also known as Rafflesia arnoldii, the flower mostly blooms in the rainforests of Indonesia, and is considered to be one of the three national flowers of Indonesia. With no visible roots, stem or leaves, this strange looking flower is also named the Stinking Lily mainly due to its horrible smell – like that of a rotten meat or decaying flesh. The plant also lacks chlorophyll and hence, is unable to produce its own food through photosynthesis. Therefore, it attaches itself to the host plant, Tetrastigma Vine, which usually grows in the undisturbed regions of the rainforests. It is from this elusive vine that it fulfills its requirements of water and nutrients. Rafflesia arnoldii is usually spotted outside its host plant once it is ready to reproduce. A tiny bud, which is found on the outer surface of the root or stem of the host plant, develops into a cabbage-like head over a period of one year. This head blooms into a huge red flower, making it the sole identifying character of this parasitic plant. The locations where Rafflesia arnoldii grows have become popular tourist destinations over the passage of time. However, it has been observed that the numbers are dwindling steadily due to the increased human activity, which disturbs their lifestyle.
Belonging to the same genus as Morning Glory, Cuscuta or Dodder is a parasitic plant with varied species found in diverse colors like yellow, orange and red. The plant can be found in abundance in tropical and temperate regions across the globe. However, they become rare in the cool temperate climate. Dodder is an ectoparasite (visible outside the host plant) and can be easily identified through its thin, leafless stems. Dodder flowers are found in many colors like white, cream, pink and yellow depending upon the species and mostly bloom during summer. Once Dodder attaches itself to the host plant for its life requirements, it wraps itself around it for the duration of its lifetime. Its original roots die soon after Dodder produces haustoria to insert into the vascular system of the host plant. This is how it survives and grows, attaching itself to multiple plants growing around. In fact, in tropical areas, it grows continuously and reaches high into the canopy of various trees and shrubs. Dodder is parasitic on a wide range of plants, and can possibly spread diseases from one host to another due to its rapid growth. Eventually, this tendency can prove to be harmful as it has a potential to damage crops and plants in general. However, the only respite that the host plants have is based on the fact that the Dodder dies after producing seeds. This, in turn, gives some time to the host plant to make up for the lost growth, and recover before the next season.
Some parasitic plants are specially cultivated due to their attractive flower; broomrape is one of them. The tubular flower of Broomrape closely resembles a snapdragon flower and is found in different colors like white, yellow or blue. The shoots of this plant are scaly and found in a bunch of 10 to 20 flowers altogether. To begin with, the seed of Broomrape can remain dormant for many years, until stimulated by certain compounds to germinate. As they completely lack chlorophyll, Broomrape depends on the other plants for water and nutrients. The haustoria typically entwine the host plant and take away the nourishment by digging deep into the xylem and the phloem. As a result, the growth of the host plant becomes stagnant and retarded. In some regions of the world, Broomrape damages around 15% to 70% of the crop of tobacco, eggplant, cauliflower, tomato, etc. In heavily affected areas, branched Broomrape can cause complete crop devastation. However, according to recent research, it has been discovered that the growth and spread of Broomrape can be controlled through herbicides – a substance that can destroy unwanted weeds, plants, and vegetation.
Mistletoe is a flowering plant, which attaches itself to and grows with the help of the vascular system of a shrub or a tree. This parasitic plant is considered to be highly damaging as it can spread on a wide range of host plants and trees. It has the ability to retard their growth and cause the tips of the branches to become stunted. The roots of the mistletoe penetrate deep into the trunk, branches, and twigs of the host plant. In this way, they survive by feeding on the nutrients of other trees. However, some species of the mistletoe do produce a small portion of their own food because they have left with chlorophyll and can undergo photosynthesis. Such species are called hemiparasitic plants. Besides growing from one plant to another, mistletoe also spreads through birds, which feed on the seeds, later depositing them near other trees. Mistletoe remains green for the most part of the year, and many animals and birds depend on it for food and habitat. Hence, it is considered to be one of the more important components in the forest ecology. In case small branches or twigs are affected by Mistletoe, they can be trimmed or removed to prevent further growth. In extreme cases, the heavy infestation of Mistletoe can kill the entire host plant.
Commonly known as the Indian paintbrush, the flowers of Castilleja are considered to be edible. The tribes of Native Americans used to consume the spiky blooms as condiments, to treat rheumatism and to boost immunity. The Indian tribe in Nevada found their cure for sexually transmitted diseases in the flowers of this hemiparasitic plant. If eaten in moderation, flowers have similar health benefits to that of garlic. They are mainly found in clusters in various hues of yellow, orange and red. However, the tendency of the plant to absorb selenium from the soil makes it very toxic. So, it can be hazardous to eat other parts of the plant like roots or leaves. Being hemi-parasitic, the Indian paintbrush partly makes its own food and partly derives it from other plants. It mainly thrives on the roots of grasses and forbs. It is usually found in the wild, hills or mountainside, and often dies after seeding. It has over 200 species and is mainly spotted in northern and western parts of America, northern Asia, and northwestern Russia.With this, we got to study 5 parasitic flowers and their lifestyles.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]