What are Saprophytes?

Saprophytes are defined as any living organisms that live and feed on dead and decaying organic matter, unlike parasites that live on living organisms. They are considered extremely important in soil biology. They break down dead and decaying organic matter into simple substances that can be taken up and recycled by plants. Therefore, Saprophytes play a significant role in the ecosystem.

Examples of Saprophytes are fungi and some bacteria.

Saprophytes are generally referred to as plant. The word Saprophytes is derived from a Greek word, which refers to rotten nourishment. A few plants, including certain types of orchids and monotropes are known to be parasites on fungi.

But perhaps it points to certain types of orchids and a family of flowering plants called monotropes. Monotropes do not use photosynthesis to make nutrients and it was believed that they extracted nutrients from dead organic matter. It is now understood that these types of plants are actually parasites that obtain their food by growing on living fungi. Nevertheless, there are no known true saprophytic plants.

Also, Read Photosynthesis

Saprophytic Nutrition

Saprophytes are identified by their use of a particular kind of digestion mechanism, named extra-cellular digestion. The 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 hence metabolized. In saprophytic nutrition, the main classes of matter that are broken down happen to be proteins, fats, and starch. Proteins are digested into amino acids while fats are broken down into glycerol and fatty acids and starch are digested into simple sugars. These entire end products are small enough to be transported through the cell membranes.

Also Read: Absorption Of Digested Foods


Another name for saprophytes is decomposers. They work extremely efficiently and, together with the warmth and wetness which helps accelerate decomposition, often breaking down dead animals and vegetation within 24 hours.  Decomposition occurs in areas which are colder and less humid, however, can sometimes take up to six weeks. Suitable conditions are hence needed for the optimum growth of the common types of saprophytes. There must be sufficient water in the soil or surrounding environment. 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. There must usually be oxygen present as the majority of saprophytes cannot grow under anaerobic conditions. Some of the most common examples include certain saprophytic fungus types, such as those in the families of Rhizopus and Mucor.

Also Refer: Decomposition

Explore more about Saprophytes,  its features, economical importance, and other related topics  @ BYJU’S Biology


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