saprophyte (săpˈrəfĪtˌ) [key], any plant that depends on dead plant or animal tissue for a source of nutrition and metabolic energy, e.g., most fungi (molds) and a few flowering plants, such as Indian pipe and some orchids. Most saprophytes do not produce chlorophyll and therefore do not photosynthesize; they are thus dependent on the food energy they absorb from the decaying tissues, which they help to break down.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.