We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What are Saprophytes?

By C. Martin
Updated May 16, 2024
Our promise to you
HomeQuestionsAnswered is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At HomeQuestionsAnswered, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Saprophytes are living organisms that feed on dead organic matter. They are considered extremely important in soil biology, as they break down dead and decaying organic matter into simple substances that can be taken up and recycled by plants. The term is usually used to refer to saprophytic fungi or bacteria.

In the strict botanical definition, the term "saprophyte" is something of a misnomer. "Phyte" means a plant, and bacteria and fungi are not classified as plants. Some higher plants such as certain types of orchids and a family of flowering plants called monotropes were once included in this category, because they do not use photosynthesis to make nutrients, so it was believed that they extracted nutrients from dead organic matter. It is now known that these types of plants are actually parasites that obtain their food by growing on living fungi. As such, there are no known true saprophytic plants.

Saprophytes are characterized by their use of a particular kind of digestion mechanism, called extra-cellular digestion. This process involves the secretion of digestive substances into the surrounding environment, where they break down organic matter into simple substances. The resulting nutrients are then absorbed directly through the membranes of the organism's cells, and metabolized.

In saprophytic nutrition, the main classes of matter that are broken down are proteins, fats, and starches. Proteins are digested into amino acids. Fats are broken down into glycerol and fatty acids. Starches are digested into simple sugars. All of the resulting substances are then of a small enough molecular size that they can be transported across the cell membranes.

Suitable conditions are needed for the optimum growth of the common types of saprophytes. There must be sufficient water in the soil or surrounding environment. There must usually be oxygen present, as the majority cannot grow under anaerobic conditions. The acidity of the soil or environment usually needs to be neutral, or slightly acidic, as most of these organisms do not thrive under alkaline conditions.

Some of the most common include certain saprophytic fungus types, such as those in the families of Rhizopus and Mucor. These fungi typically have an extensive network of hyphae, similar to tiny roots, which grow through the soil or through dead wood or other organic matter. They grow in a network called a mycelium. This enables the fungus to thoroughly penetrate the local organic matter, within which the hyphae secrete digestive enzymes and absorb the resulting nutrients.

HomeQuestionsAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon284086 — On Aug 08, 2012

How tall are they?

By anon170411 — On Apr 26, 2011

What type of soil does a saprophytic plant grow in? Is it fertile, loamy, clay or sandy?

By FernValley — On Apr 19, 2011

I had only ever heard these referred to as bacteria or fungi. It is good to hear this other term, I wish it had come up in high school biology -- now I am definitely going to add that to my "word of the day" list, and drop it at parties.

By anon47116 — On Oct 01, 2009

Please add: how does a saprophyte reproduce -- how is it thought to locate the appropriate host food source?

HomeQuestionsAnswered, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

HomeQuestionsAnswered, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.