The high life: Epiphytes
Epiphytes grow upon or attached to a living plant, often high up in rainforest trees where there is more light compared with lower levels.
Epiphytes use the host plant for support, but produce their own energy from photosynthesis and obtain moisture and nutrients from the air. They do not damage a host directly, although their attachment roots and bulk can eventually ‘strangle’ or topple large trees.
In comparison, English mistletoe (Viscum album), which also grows on tree branches, is not an epiphyte because it takes water, nutrients, and minerals from its host; it is hemi-parasitic organism.
Epiphytes are incredible diverse and grow in abundance at The Living Rainforest on tree trunks and logs throughout our greenhouses.
The best known epiphyte groups
Bromeliads (Bromeliaceae): a group with over 3,000 species, mostly from South America. The leaves are often spirally arranged and tightly overlap at their bases to form a pool of water where debris, water, and animals get trapped and the nutrients absorbed. Many animals also drink from bromeliads and some even breed or live in the pool, such as dart frogs.
Orchids (Orchidaceae): many orchids are epiphytes, contributing to around 22,000 species from around the world. They can be recognised by having symmetrical flowers with male and female organs fused (stamens and carpel), and a high modified petal. The leaves usually have parallel veins.
At a glance
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