The broomrapes (Orobanchaceae) include about 200 species, all of which are parasitic. Originally eleven species occurred naturally in Belgium and six in Flanders. The genus broomrape, Orobanche, is by far the largest. However, most species are very rare and their survival has become largely uncertain.
Parasitic plants all have in common that they have the ability to penetrate the plant tissue of surrounding plants and thus water, obtain sugars and mineral nutrients from their hosts. This is done through a specific root structure called haustorium (from the Latin "haurire", meaning to drink). Germination of seeds only takes place immediately in the vicinity of the roots of a suitable host. Most parasitic species are host specific.
The family has a cosmopolitan distribution and is richest in representatives in the Mediterranean and Southwest Asia.
Some species in the genera Orobanche and Striga can cause massive damage. They often parasitize cereal crops such as sugar cane, corn, millet, sorghum and other important agricultural crops such as sunflower, hemp, tomatoes and legumes. Due to the ubiquitous nature of these particular parasites in developing countries, it is estimated to affect the livelihoods of more than 100 million people, killing 20 to 100 percent of crops.
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