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Orchid mycorrhiza probably affects about 25 000 plant species and thus roughly one tenth of all higher plants. Histologically, this symbiosis resembles other kinds of endomycorrhiza, the fungal hyphae growing within living plant cells. Considerable evidence, however, suggests that it is not a two-way exchange relationship and thus not potentially mutualistic, such as the wide-spread endomycorrhiza between plants and Glomalean fungi, known as arbuscular mycorrhiza. During the achlorophyllous seedling stage orchids are obligately dependent on the fungi; some species remain so through life, while others establish photosynthesis but to varying degrees remain facultatively dependent of /responsive to fungal infection as adults. None of the fungi involved are so far known to depend on the symbiosis with orchids. Transfer of organic carbon compounds from hyphae to the orchid has been demonstrated repeatedly, but it is not clear to what extent this takes place during a biotrophic phase while the intracellular hyphae remain intact, or during the subsequent extensive degradation of the hyphal coils. The advantage of viewing orchid mycorrhiza basically as a unilateral mycophagous relationship, in spite of hypothetical beneficial spin-offs to the mycobiont, is that it provides a conceptual framework similar to that of other parasitic or fungivore relationships; mechanisms known in such relationships could be searched for in future studies of the orchid–fungus symbiosis. These could include mechanisms for recognition, attraction and selection of fungi, physiological regulation of internal hyphal growth, breakdown, and material transfer, nutritional consequences of the plant's preference(s) and trophic changes, fungal avoidance mechanisms, and consequences at population and ecosystem levels. A whole range of possible life strategies becomes apparent that could support divergent evolution and lead to the proliferation of species that has indeed occurred in the orchid family. We outline some of the possible physiological mechanisms and ecological implications of this approach.