Mycotrophic ("Fungus Feeding") Plants of Massachusetts

Mycorrhizal Associations (Mycorrhizae)

The vast majority of vascular plants have symbiotic associations with certain fungi (i.e., mycorrhizal fungi), which attach to the plant roots. The association is mutually beneficial; the fungi greatly increase the supply of nutrients to the plant by increasing the surface area available for absorption; the fungi benefit by obtaining organic carbon (i.e., sugars) from the plant.

What's a Mycotrophic Plant?

Mycotrophic plants obtain nutrients and organic carbon from mycorrhizal fungi (i.e., they are parasitic on mycorrhizal fungi). Because the mycorrhizal fungi obtain organic carbon from another plant, mycotrophic plants are indirectly parasitic on other plants.
Mycotrophic plants occurring in Massachusetts are listed below.

Diapensiaceae (Diapensia Family)

Certain members of the Diapensia family are mycotrophic.  All species from this family that occur in Massachusetts are non-native.  One mycotrophic species is found in Massachusetts:

Galax aphylla (galax)

Gentianaceae (Gentian Family)


Two mycotrophic species from the Gentian family are found in Massachusetts:

Bartonia paniculata (screw-stem)
Bartonia virginica (screw-stem)

Monotropaceae (Indian Pipe Family)

Indian pipe

Members of the Indian pipe family are wholly mycotrophic and lack chlorophyll. Two species occur in Massachusetts:

Monotropa hypopithys (pinesap)
Monotropa uniflora (Indian pipe)

Orchidaceae (Orchid Family)

Orchids are dependent on mycorrhizal fungi for their source of organic carbon during at least a portion of their life cycle (i.e., as seedlings and during dormancy). Some orchids remain wholly mycotrophic throughout their lifecycle. Wholly mycotrophic orchids occurring in Massachusetts include species of Corallorhiza (listed below).

Corallorhiza maculata (large coralroot)
Corallorhiza odontorhiza (autumn coralroot)
Corallorhiza trifida (early coralroot)

Pyrolaceae (Shinleaf Family)

Species from the Shinleaf family are hemi-mycotrophic (i.e., they are green plants and are only partially dependent on mycorrhizal fungi for their source of organic carbon).  The following eight species occur in Massachusetts:

Chimaphila maculata (spotted wintergreen)
Chimaphila umbellata (pipsissewa)
Moneses uniflora (One-flowered pyrola)
Orthilia secunda (One-sided pyrola)
Pyrola americana (round-leaved shinleaf)
Pyrola asarifolia (pink pyrola)
Pyrola chlorantha (green shinleaf)
Pyrola elliptica (elliptic shinleaf)


Gleason, H.A. and A. Cronquist. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. 1991. Second Edition. The New York Botanical Garden Press: Bronx, NY.

Raven, P.H., R.F. Evert, and S.E. Eichhorn. 1992. Biology of Plants. Fifth Edition. Worth Publishers: New York. 791 pp.

Sorrie, B.A. and Sommers, P. 1999. The Vascular Plants of Massachusetts: A County Checklist. Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program.

Southern Illinois University, College of Science. Parasitic Plant Connection website. Available from Updated January 12, 2007.

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