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Competition Among Plants

by Ron Kurtus (revised 3 May 2015)

Just as humans and animals compete to win a prize or gain an advantage, there is also competition among plants. This competition is both among its own species, as well as against other types of plants and even animals.

Plants seek the rewards of nutrients, water, sunlight, and territory necessary for survival.

One type of competition is comparing the performance with other plants. The "winner" grows the best. Another type of plant competition is head-to-head against other plants. In this case, the winner squeezes out the others to get the most sunlight or such. The third type of competition is where a plant grows at the expense of another plant.

If there are sufficient ingredients, the plants will compete by their performance for reproductive ability.

If the plants are in proximity, there may be a limited amount of these essential ingredients, resulting in a head-to-head competition for as much of a share as possible.

In some cases, parasitic plants will compete with host plants for the nutrition owned by the host.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.

Performance competition

Plants that have sufficient nutrients, water, sunlight, and territory for survival and healthy growth will compete against each other to show which ones can reproduce the best.

For example the ones with the most attractive flowers to insects will be able to be pollinated and reproduce better than those of their species with less attractive flowers. Also, competition between species can be determined by which one creates the most seeds and has the best method of dissemination.

Performance competition with plants is just doing what is natural for them. Although some plants can sense when a predator—such as a caterpiller—is eating nearby plants, they really are not aware of who is the "winner" in a contest, as are humans and animals.

Head-to-head competition

Plants that are close to each other may compete for nutrients, water, sunlight, and territory necessary for survival. Some plants go mainly on the offense, trying to get as much as they can. Other plants use defensive methods to stifle their opponents from getting needed nutrients.


They spread their roots to gather nutrients and water necessary for survival and growth. In the competition, there is only so much of these ingredients available, so the stronger or better competitor may be so efficient that it dow not allow the other plant enough for survival or much growth. But it is also possible that neither plant will grow much in such a competition.

Offense and defense

Another area of competition is in gathering available sunlight. Plants that grow rapidly and have big leaves may be able to gather sunlight at the expense of nearby, less aggressive plants.


Some plants use other defensive tactics to prevent opponents from competing. Some put toxins in the ground nearby, so competitors cannot get too close.

Predatory competition

There are plants that seek nutrients owned by another. Parasitic plants will compete with host plants for the host's nutrients. The parasite is on the offense, trying to take nutrients directly from the victim of the attack. The victim plant is on the defense, trying to fend off the attack and succeed in surviving.

Although this seems like a one-sided competition, if the plant is able to prevent the parasitic plant from getting its nutrients, the parasite may wither and even die. But if the host plant dies, the parasite may be in trouble and even die itself.

In this type of competition, one may survive and grow, while the other leads a weakened life.


Plants with sufficient nutrients, water, sunlight, and territory compete by their for reproductive ability. If the plants are in proximity and there is a limited amount of essential ingredients, a head-to-head competition for as much of a share as possible results. In some cases, parasitic plants will compete with host plants for the nutrition owned by the host.

Learn through observation

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