Thanks to the knowledgeable people on the Orchids Digest list, I can say with confidence that the reporter who described orchids as “parasites” hasn’t really got her story quite straight. Though she was very convincing, I’ll grant that.
As one esteemed professor on the list writes:
In zoology, there is a fine discrimination between so-called true parasites and parasitoids, the later killing the host as a consequence it completing its life cycle. In botany, there is even a finer line between parasites and their hosts, usually taking the form of symbioses or mutualisms; this is the relationship of some orchids with some fungi, but apparently not all nor always. To confuse matters
even more, what may start, or appear to start as a parasitic relationship does not necessarily remain, but may become a symbiotic relationship, or a reversed predatory role.”
Splitting hairs, in other words. Calling an orchid a parasite on the fungus that helps nourish it is just too simple.
One woman on the list does have a point, though.
“They have convinced homo sapiens to rescue them from their plight of near-extinction, feed them, care for them, and even propagate them. They take nutrients from us, their hosts, and, yes, they allow us to survive, allbeitly, much the poorer after we acquire them and design, build and maintain their artificial habitats. Known as one of the most complex of the plant kingdom, I’d say, parasites or not, they have done pretty well for themselves.”