Difference between Saprophytic and Symbiotic Plants

Plants are classified into saprophytes and symbionts on the basis of their mode of nutrition. While saprophytes feed on dead and organic matter, symbionts depend on other living hosts for their nutrition.

What are Saprophytes?

Saprophytes are plants that depend on dead organic matter for their nutrition. They usually do not have chlorophyll and are known as non-green plants. They grow on dead wood, decomposed waste and leaves. They convert the organic materials into simpler forms with enzymes.

What are Symbionts?

Symbionts form close relationships with other plants and extract their nutrition from them. They show three types of relationships –

  • Mutualism: In this type, both the organisms gain from each other.
  • Commensalism: In this type, one organism gains from the other while the other is unaffected.
  • Parasitism: In this type, one organism gains from the other, and the other is harmed negatively.

Let us look at their differences now.

Saprophytic Plants

Symbiotic Plants


Saprophytic plants or saprophytes depend on dead and organic matter for their food.

Symbiotic plants or symbionts form close relations with other organisms and depend on them for their nutrition.


No types.

Three types: Mutualism, Commensalism, and Parasitism.


Pyrola elliptica (shinleaf), Monotropa uniflora (Indian pipe)

Rafflesia sp., nurse trees like the Palo verde tree, which has saguaro cacti under its canopy.


Extracellular digestion

Intracellular digestion

Explore BYJU’S Biology to learn more.

Also see:


What is the difference between saprophytes and saprotrophs?

Saprophytes are plants that follow saprophytic mode of nutrition, whereas saprotrophs are fungi that follow the saprophytic mode of nutrition.

Are saprophytes green?

No, saprophytes lack chlorophyll and are called non-green plants.

Is amoeba saprophytic?

No, amoeba is not saprophytic. Instead, it follows a holozoic mode of nutrition.

Is cuscuta a saprophyte?

No, cuscuta is a parasite which grows on other plants, takes nutrients from them and weakens them.

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