Saprophytes: Definition, Examples, Characteristics

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What are Saprophytes?

  • Sometimes referred to as saprotrophs saprophytes are organisms that receive nutrition from decaying and dead organic matter, particularly plant matter.
  • Although a number of fungi (e.g. mushrooms, for example) are among the most commonly used saprophytes, it is important to note that flowersing plants as well as bacteria belong to this category.
  • Through the process of dissolving dead organic matter and decaying it saprophytes aid in the process of nutrient cycling, and therefore ensure that different minerals and substances are readily accessible in the form other living things can benefit from.
  • The word saprophyte comes of saprophyte, which is derived from the Greek word “Sapros” as well as “Phyton” which refers to plants and putrid, respectively. It is therefore concerned with decaying material from plants.
  • Although animals such as vultures eat the carcasses of dead animal, they aren’t classified as saprophytes since they exclusively feed on and breakdown decaying and dead plant matter.
  • In this case, the term saprotrophs is more appropriate when discussing species like Vultures. The word “troth” for saprotrophs taken in the Greek word “Trophe” meaning nourishment.

Examples of Saprophytes

As previously mentioned, saprophyte is an umbrella term that is used to describe a variety of species of organisms that feed on decaying and dead organic material (plant material).

These are just a few types of saprophytes;


  • Fungi as well as some of the most famous saprophytes.
  • Examples of saprophytic fungi are molds, yeast, penicillium, mushrooms mucor and so on.


  • Certain bacteria live by breaking down organic matter, such as those from dead or decaying animals. Therefore, they aren’t saprophytes.
  • But, others, like vibrio japonicus (which is able to break down polysaccharide) and a few nitrogen fixing bacteria, are thought as saprophytic.
  • Saprophytic bacteria break up various complex organic compounds such as cellulose, lignin and hemicellulose, among others.

Flowering plants

  • Although the majority of plants can photosynthesis, and therefore can make the food they need, some of them live as saprophytes, and thus get their food from decaying and dead organic matter.
  • Examples of saprophytic flowering plants are Ghost Plant (Indian pipe) Burmannia, Ghost plant Sebaea.
  • Although certain of these plants can be photosynthesis-able but they also rely on saprophytism. They are called hemisaprophytic.


  • Algae are a variety of organisms within the kingdom of Protista capable of photosynthesis.
  • However, certain species, such as those belonging to the genus Polytomathat do not have chlorophyll, have been proven to have a saprophytic existence.

Characteristics of Saprophytes

All saprophytes depend on decaying and dead plants for food (partially or totally). Although they share some features but there are also differences among the various types.


These are some features of the various types of saprophytes:


Most fungi belong to the saprophytes. They consequently rely on decaying and dead organic matter as their food source. Because fungi do not contain chlorophyll, they don’t directly require sunlight energy, which is essential for plants that photosynthesize.

This is why they’re often discovered in shady areas (e.g. beneath trees as well as other vegetation) in which decaying and dead plants (such as fruits, leaves branches, fallen branches, stems and so on.) are.

As compared to these fungi certain species are parasitic and depend on living hosts (plant or animal). Because they receive their nutrition from their hosts, they may cause injury or even disease (cause injury on the hosts).

Characteristics of saprophytic fungi

Here are a few of the most important traits of saprophytic fungi

  • Eukaryotic – Fungi belong to eukaryotic organisms. They are recognized by their intricate cell organization (with Membrane-connected organelles). While some species of fungi are monocellular (e.g. yeast) Others, like mushrooms are multicellular, and consist of specialized parts (e.g. the hyphae, caps, stalk, etc.)
  • Lack chlorophyll and non-vascular –  In contrast to most plants and organisms that use chlorophyll for photosynthesis, fungi do NOT have chlorophyll. This means they are not able to create themselves food. Since they are unable to make themselves food items, they are forced depend on organic matter within their environment for food.
  • In addition to being deficient in chlorophyll multicellular fungi are also not vascular and don’t have a vascular system (phloem and the xylem) which transports water and nutrients within plants. Instead, they could be able to form filamentous structures that are highly branched known as mycelium and hypha that are responsible for taking in nutrients.
  • Enzymes – To absorb nutrients from organic plant material, saprophytic fungi create different enzymes that interact with and break down various molecules. There are many kinds of fungal enzymes, including the cellulase enzyme, phytase enzyme, lipas and xylanase to name a few. In the process of breaking down substances (e.g. the cellulose, sugars, etc. ) the necessary nutrients are absorbed by the hyphae. When organic matter is disintegrated the mycelium continues increase over. It can be found on the surface, and can even get into sources of nutrition.
  • Reproduction – Fungi produce sexually as well as sexually. Unicellular fungi that are sexually active like yeast reproduce through budding. The bud will protrude out of the cells of their parent, it eventually splits off. Multicellular fungi on the contrary reproduce by releasing multiple haploid spores, which split mitotically, resulting in mature people, haploid. Through the production of many (millions to trillions, depending in the species of the) spores, the chances of spores landing on substrate that promotes development are enhanced. Additionally the mycelium could split into smaller pieces that can result in the birth of new species. In extreme conditions, certain species of fungi generate sexually. In this case, two nuclei fusion (sex cells) which results in fertilization and subsequently an individual.
  • Other characteristics of saprophytic fungi –
    • Versatile metabolism – They are able to breakdown different kinds of organic compounds found in decaying and dead plants.
    • Habitats: Common in moist, dark or shady habitats
    • Mycelium is not a fungus, but it continues to expand in the direction of food
    • It is possible to form a symbiotic connection with other organisms in the natural world.

Types of saprophytic fungi

In terms of reproduction rate, fungi can be classified into four major groups , which comprise:

  • Zygomycetes (e.g., bread mold) – These can be discovered on dead plants, as well as on dung. They are able to create sexually (through the combination of the zygospores) as well as asexually by the dispersal of the sporangiospores
  • Ascomycota/Ascomycetes  – Ascomycota includes sac fungi some of which are parasitic or coprophilous. But, there are also the saprophytes, or even decomposers. They produce sexually by producing ascospores or asexually, through their production of conidiospores.
  • Basidiomycota/ Basidiomycetes – Basidiomycota(also known as Basidiomycetes) are mushrooms that can reproduce sexually through basidiospores and also asexually via budding and fragmentation.
  • Deuteromycota (fungi imperfecti) – This fungus does not belong to any specific category and reproduction of sexually transmitted spores is not understood. However, sexual reproduction occurs by the creation of spores, which is known as conidia.

Saphrophytic Bacteria

Like the name suggests, saprophytic bacteria are able to break down or break down organic matter. In particular, these species can break down complex substances like the lignin and hemicellulose into simpler forms which can be used later or be utilized for other living organisms.

In addition to saprophytic fungi saprophytic bacteria are among the most commonly found organisms in garden and kitchen wastes, etc. In this way, they breakdown various types of compounds to gain the nutrition they require for their survival.

In contrast to phytopathogens that cause harm or disease to plants, certain saprophytic bacteria may establish a beneficial relationship with plants to benefit one another.

Characteristics of saprophytic bacteria

Here are a few features for saprophytic bacteria

  • Unicellular prokaryotes – In contrast to other fungi, all saprophytic bacterial species are prokaryotes that are unicellular. This means that they are all distinguished by an uncomplicated cell structure that is devoid of membrane-bound organelles. While some fungi such as yeast are monocellular however, the majority of the fungi are multicellular. All saprophytic bacteria on the contrary are prokaryotes with a single cell.
  • Enzymes – Similar to saprophytic fungi, saprophytic organisms such as vibrio japonicus can produce a variety of enzymes that enable them to break down a variety of complex substances. For instance, research has revealed that vibrio japonicus to make a range of enzymes, including carbohydrate lyases glycoside hydrolases, glycoside lyases, and carbohydrate-binding module proteins in carbohydrate-active enzymes, such as glycoside hydrolases among others. Saccharophagus degradans is also a saprophytic bacteria produces numerous enzymes such as hydrolases, Lyases and esterases by which it can degrade the cell components such as cellulose, chitin, pectin, among others. Being the largest organic compound source cells, the cell wall in plants is a significant source of nutrition for many kinds of organisms. Through the production of various types of enzymes which degrade this structure, saprophytic bacteria are not just capable of obtaining the nutrition they require for the survival of their species, but also create some of the elements available for other living organisms and plants in the environment.
  • Other features of saprophytic bacteria are the following: –
    • Reproduce asexually through binary fission 
    • Found in soil
    • Some saprophytic bacteria can become parasitic under certain conditions (opportunistic parasites)

Flowering Plants (saprophytic flowering plants)

They are also known under the name angiosperms flowers are the most widespread and diverse of land animals. Although most of them are autotrophs, capable producing themselves food sources, a few get the majority of their food from decaying and dead organic matter. One of the most impressive specimens of saprophytic flowers is called the Ghost plant.

In contrast to most plants The Ghost plant lacks chlorophyll, and therefore is not capable of photosynthesis. Because of this, it has been proven to gain nutrients from decaying matter in very dark places (e.g. caves). However, they don’t directly get nutrients from plants that are decaying.

They form relationships with various species of fungi capable of dissolving dead and decaying material (e.g. branches, leaves, and stumps of trees) to get nutrients.

While certain fungi get their nutrients from decaying or dead plant matter, some are symbiotically linked to living trees. Since the fungi get nutrition from trees and plants and plants, their ghost plants (which is also a myco-heterotroph) utilizes these nutrients to support its own development.

It’s often referred to as a parasite that has the fungus serving in the role of host.

Characteristics of saprophytic flowering plants

  • Some of these plants do not have chlorophyll – This is because certain plants do not have chlorophyll, they are not capable of photosynthesis. This is why they appear white. However, they could also be red, pink, or yellowish in hue.
  • Reproduction – Differently from bacteria and fungi, flowering plants reproduce by the process of pollination. The pollen produced in the flowers (anther of the flower) is transferred/transported to the stigma of the same plant (self-pollination) or another plant (cross-pollination). Pollen (male gametes) will then fertilize the Ovules (female gametes inside the stigma) to allow fertilization to take place. Ovules fertilized are then transformed into seeds, which expand to create new individuals.
  • Ecology – Since the majority of these plants don’t contain chlorophyll they don’t require sunlight to generate energy. Therefore, they are often found in shaded or dark regions (e.g. under trees, etc. ).

Saprophytic Algae

Algae is one of the largest groups of photosynthetic algae that belong to the kingdom of Protista. There are only a few saprophytic algal species belonging to the family of Polytoma. Contrary to most algae the saprophytic algae do not have chlorophyll, and therefore are incapable of photosynthesis.

Because of this, people in this group depend on decaying and dead organic matter to eat.

Characteristics of saprophytic algae

The main features of saprophytic algae are:

  • Single-celled eukaryotes – Although some algae are multicellular members of the Polytoma genus are single-celled Eukaryotes. This means that they are distinguished by organelles that are membrane-bound. Some organelles that are connected to these cells include an eye spot and contractile vacuoles and the flagella. They are also distinguished by a plastid type known as leucoplasts aswell in the form of a cell wall. the cell.
  • Ecology – Since they are unable to manufacture the food they consume, species of the genus of Polytoma feed on water bodies that are small, such as rainwater pools and so on. comprised of decaying vegetation. These animals are able to degrade the materials to get the nutrients they require to reproduce and grow. Regarding distribution, they are found in many areas of the world.
  • Reproduction – Saprophytic algae produce sexually as well as sexually. Sexually, they create gender-specific gametes, which join to form a zygote , which grows to form new species. Sexual reproduction, on the other hand, happens via a process known as the process of zoosporogenesis. In this case, the cell divides and produces between four and eight identical daughter cells.
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