Nutritional Adaptations of Plants

Symbionts

A symbiont is a plant in a symbiotic relationship, with special adaptations such as mycorrhizae or nodule formation. Fungi also form symbiotic associations with cyanobacteria and green algae (called lichens). Lichens can sometimes be seen as colorful growths on the surface of rocks and trees (Figure). The algal partner (phycobiont) makes food autotrophically, some of which it shares with the fungus; the fungal partner (mycobiont) absorbs water and minerals from the environment, which are made available to the green alga. If one partner was separated from the other, they would both die.

 Photo shows a tall pine tree covered with green lichen.
Lichens, which often have symbiotic relationships with other plants, can sometimes be found growing on trees. (credit: "benketaro"/Flickr)

Epiphytes

An epiphyte is a plant that grows on other plants, but is not dependent upon the other plant for nutrition (Figure). Epiphytes have two types of roots: clinging aerial roots, which absorb nutrients from humus that accumulates in the crevices of trees; and aerial roots, which absorb moisture from the atmosphere.

Photo shows a tree trunk covered with epiphytes, which look like ferns growing on the trunk of a tree. There are so many epiphytes the trunk is nearly obscured.
These epiphyte plants grow in the main greenhouse of the Jardin des Plantes in Paris.