Endoparasitic plants and fungi show evolutionary convergence across phylogenetic divisions

Chris J. Thorogood, Luiza Teixeira-Costa, Gregório Ceccantini, Charles Davis, Simon J. Hiscock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Endoparasitic plants are the most reduced flowering plants, spending most of their lives as a network of filaments within the tissues of their hosts. Despite their extraordinary life form, we know little about their biology. Research into a few species has revealed unexpected insights, such as the total loss of plastome, the reduction of the vegetative phase to a proembryonic stage, and elevated information exchange between host and parasite. To consolidate our understanding, we review life history, anatomy, and molecular genetics across the four independent lineages of endoparasitic plants. We highlight convergence across these clades and a striking trans-kingdom convergence in life history among endoparasitic plants and disparate lineages of fungi at the molecular and physiological levels. We hypothesize that parasitism of woody plants preselected for the endoparasitic life history, providing parasites a stable host environment and the necessary hydraulics to enable floral gigantism and/or high reproductive output. Finally, we propose a broader view of endoparasitic plants that connects research across disciplines, for example, pollen–pistil and graft incompatibility interactions and plant associations with various fungi. We shine a light on endoparasitic plants and their hosts as under-explored ecological microcosms ripe for identifying unexpected biological processes, interactions and evolutionary convergence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1159-1167
Number of pages9
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank Andy Bailey for his helpful advice on fungal pathogens and for his recommendations on improving the figures. The authors also thank the anonymous reviewers for their constructive and insightful comments.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. New Phytologist © 2021 New Phytologist Foundation

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • convergent evolution
  • endoparasite
  • fungi
  • parasitic plant
  • Rafflesiaceae


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