AskDefine | Define epiphyte

Dictionary Definition

epiphyte n : plant that derives moisture and nutrients from the air and rain; usually grows on another plant but not parasitic on it [syn: air plant, aerophyte, epiphytic plant]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A plant that grows on another, using it as a physical support but not obtaining nutrients from it; an air plant.

Extensive Definition

An epiphyte is an organism that grows upon or attached to a living plant. The term most commonly refers to higher plants, but epiphytic bacteria, fungi (epiphytic fungi), algae, lichens, mosses, and ferns exist as well. The term epiphytic derives from the Greek epi- (meaning 'upon') and phyton (meaning 'plant'). Epiphytic plants are sometimes called "air plants" because they do not root in soil. However, there are many aquatic species of algae, including seaweeds, that are epiphytes on other aquatic plants (seaweeds or aquatic angiosperms).
Epiphytic organisms usually derive only physical support and not nutrition from their host, though they may sometimes damage the host. Parasitic and semiparasitic plants growing on other plants (mistletoe is well known) are not "true" epiphytes (a designation usually given to fully autotrophic epiphytes), but are still epiphytic in habit.
Epiphytic plants use photosynthesis for energy and (where non-aquatic) obtain moisture from the air or from dampness (rain and cloud moisture) on the surface of their hosts. Roots may develop primarily for attachment, and specialized structures (for example, cups and scales) may be used to collect or hold moisture.
Epiphytic plants attached to their hosts high in the canopy have an advantage over herbs restricted to the ground where there is less light and herbivores may be more active.
Epiphytic plants are also important to certain animals that may live in their water reservoirs, such as some types of frogs and arthropods. The best-known epiphytic plants include mosses, orchids, and bromeliads such as Spanish moss (of the genus Tillandsia), but epiphytic plants may be found in every major group of the plant kingdom. Assemblages of large epiphytes occur most abundantly in moist tropical forests, but mosses and lichens occur as epiphytes in almost any environment with trees.
Some epiphytic plants are large trees that begin their lives high in the forest canopy. Over decades they send roots down the trunk of a host tree eventually overpowering and replacing it. The strangler fig and the northern rātā (Metrosideros spp.) of New Zealand are examples of this. Epiphytes that end up as free standing trees are also called hemiphytes.
In Europe there are no dedicated epiphytic plants using roots, although grass, small bushes or small trees may grow on the branches of other plants.
The first important monograph on epiphytic plant ecology was written by A.F.W. Schimper (Die Epiphytische Vegetation Amerikas, 1888).
Epiphyte is one of the subdivisions of the Raunkiær system.

Popular culture

The fictitious companies Epiphyte(1) and Epiphyte(2) feature prominently in Neal Stephenson's novel Cryptonomicon. Terry Pratchett's Bromeliad trilogy uses the phenomenon of tiny frogs that live their entire lives in bromeliads as a leitmotif. Author/Artist S.A. Jones has created a series of children's books and comics about characters called Eppies. They are based on epiphytes and other elements of science.

See also

epiphyte in Bulgarian: Епифит
epiphyte in Catalan: Epífit
epiphyte in Czech: Epifyt
epiphyte in Danish: Epifyt
epiphyte in German: Epiphyt
epiphyte in Estonian: Epifüüt
epiphyte in Spanish: Epifita
epiphyte in French: Épiphyte
epiphyte in Croatian: Epifitne biljke
epiphyte in Indonesian: Epifit
epiphyte in Italian: Piante epifite
epiphyte in Hebrew: אפיפיט
epiphyte in Lithuanian: Epifitas
epiphyte in Hungarian: Epifiton
epiphyte in Dutch: Epifyt
epiphyte in Japanese: 着生植物
epiphyte in Norwegian: Epifytt
epiphyte in Norwegian Nynorsk: Epifytt
epiphyte in Polish: Epifit
epiphyte in Portuguese: Epifitismo
epiphyte in Romanian: Epifit
epiphyte in Russian: Эпифиты
epiphyte in Slovak: Epifyt
epiphyte in Finnish: Päällyskasvi
epiphyte in Swedish: Epifyt
epiphyte in Turkish: Epifit
epiphyte in Ukrainian: Епіфіти
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