Journal Article

Myco-heterotrophy: when fungi host plants

Vincent Merckx, Martin I. Bidartondo and Nicole A. Hynson

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 104, issue 7, pages 1255-1261
Published in print December 2009 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online September 2009 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Myco-heterotrophy: when fungi host plants

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry


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Myco-heterotrophic plants are partly or entirely non-photosynthetic plants that obtain energy and nutrients from fungi. These plants form a symbiosis with arbuscular mycorrhizal, ectomycorrhizal or saprotrophic fungi to meet their nutrient demands.


This Botanical Briefing summarizes current knowledge about myco-heterotrophy, discusses its controversial aspects and highlights future directions for research.


Considerable recent progress has been made in terms of understanding the evolutionary history, germination and nutrition of myco-heterotrophic plants. Myco-heterotrophic plants: (1) are diverse and often ancient lineages that have coevolved with fungi, (2) often demonstrate unusually high specificity towards fungi during germination and maturity, and (3) can either cheat common mycorrhizal networks supported by neighbouring photosynthetic plants to satisfy all or part of their energetic and nutritional needs, or recruit free-living saprotrophic fungi into novel mycorrhizal symbioses. However, several fundamental aspects of myco-heterotrophy remain controversial or unknown, such as symbiotic costs and physiology.

Keywords: Cheater; common mycorrhizal network; mutualism; myco-heterotrophy; non-photosynthetic; symbiosis

Journal Article.  4654 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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