Epiphytes

What are Epiphytes

It is a kind of organism that grows on the surface of plants and uses their nutrients from rain, air, water(under ground level) and from decompose material around their surroundings. Some plants are born to be epiphytic, some convert them into epiphytic based on their demand but one thing is common between both of them i.e the need for humidity and frequent showers. They are usually found in temperate zone conditions like mosses, liverworts, algae, etc. But epiphytes are not the same as parasitic plants as epiphytes need other plants only for their support purpose, they don't show any negative impact on the host plants.Instead of that they give rich and diverse habitat to other organisms including fungi, bacteria,etc. 

The term epiphytes means air plants and they usually grow on the top of the plants. They normally have harmless nature on host plants and they grow without soil but sometimes they also grow on certain substances like leaf debris, moss caught in between tree branches. 


Picture of Epiphytes

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Adaptive Abilities and Features of Epiphytes

  1. They have no attachment to the ground so they are called air plants and they get nutrients from leaves and other debris material. 

  2. They are mostly in dense shaded forests where there is less sunlight source.

  3. They are mainly found in tropical as well as temperate regions.

  4. They provide a rich and diverse habitat for other organisms including animals, fungi, bacteria, etc.

  5. Some epiphytes have roots and their main function is to absorb moisture from soil.

  6. In the case of some epiphytes, roots are developed in a parasitic way by which they absorb water from host plants.

  7. Epiphytes have aerial roots i.e they are present in air.

  8. If orchids are in thick format they can conserve water.

  9. Most of the epiphytes are fleshy and edible as fruits.

  10. Some epiphytes are very choosy about their host, example: Tortola.

  11. Leaves of certain epiphytes are modified into pitchers to collect rainwater.

  12. Seeds of epiphytes have easy dispersal property so that they can be dispersed from one place to another.


Types of Epiphytes

1. Terrestrial Epiphytes: These are epiphytes which grow on terrestrial environments like mosses, orchids, etc. Most of the terrestrial epiphytes are flowering plants. Further these epiphytes are divided into types they are: 

  1. Holo-epiphytes: They spend their whole life without coming in contact with soil.

  2. Hemi-epiphytes: They spend half of their life without coming in contact with soil and half of their life with coming in contact with soil.

2. Marine Ecosystem: Marine epiphytes show different features from the terrestrial ecosystem. Marine epiphytes contain species like algae, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, molluscs, etc. Algae are the most common types of marine ecosystem. Epiphytes in marine systems are known to grow quickly with very fast generation times than terrestrial epiphytes.


Example of Epiphytes 

Epiphytes are categorised into different types based on their living habitat:

  1. Holo-epiphytes: Epiphytes which can complete their whole life cycle without coming in contact with soil. Example: Orchids

  2. Hemi-epiphytes: Epiphytes who spend half of their life without soil and half of their life with soil i.e in contact with the ground. Example: Strangler fig.

  3. Proto-epiphytes: They totally depend on their host for their nourishments. Example; ferns, lichens, orchids, liverworts, etc.


Example of Different Families of Ecosystem

  1. Orchids: They are found in different shapes, patterns, colors and sizes. They are known to be the largest flowering plants and they mainly grow on mango branches.

  2. Ferns: They grow in moist areas. Example: asplenium.

  3. Epiphytic Cacti: They mainly grow in rainforests. They anchor on tree branches with their roots and they collect water and nutrients from them.


Difference Between Parasitic and Epiphytic plants

            Parasitic plants

        Epiphytic plants

1.They live on or in living organisms.

1.They grow on the surface of plants.

2.They have a negative impact on host organisms.

2.They don't have a negative impact on host organisms.

3.They get their nutrients from host plants only.

3.They mostly absorb nutrients from soil, moisture and dead and decaying organisms.

4.They are metabolically dependent on host plants.

4.They are not metabolically dependent on 

5.Example: Cuscuta, Striga, etc.

5.Example: Fern, Mosses, etc.


Similarities Between Parasites and Epiphytes

There are not too many similarities between parasites and epiphytes, but some of the similarities are given below:

  1. Both parasitic and epiphytic plants depend on hosts for their living support.

  2. Both of them need a host for physical support also.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What are Epiphytes?

Ans. It is a kind of organism that grows on the surface of plants and uses their nutrients from rain, air, water(under ground level) and from decompose material around their surroundings. Some plants are born to be epiphytic, some convert them into epiphytic based on their demand but one thing is common between both of them i.e the need for humidity and frequent showers. They are usually found in temperate zone conditions like mosses, liverworts, algae, etc.

2. Explain different types of Epiphytes?

Ans. Based on habitat epiphytes are of different types, they are:

  1. Holo-epiphytes: They spend their whole life without coming in contact with soil.

  2. Hemi-epiphytes: They spend half of their life without coming in contact with soil and half of their life with coming in contact with soil.

 3. Write two similarities between Epiphytes and Parasites?

Ans. Similarities between epiphytes and parasites are:

  1. Both parasitic and epiphytic plants depend on hosts for their living support.

  2. Both of them need a host for physical support also.

4. Explain different characteristic features of Epiphytes ?

Ans. Different characteristic features of Epiphytes are:

  1. They have no attachment to the ground so they are called air plants and they get nutrients from leaves and other debris material. 

  2. They are mostly in dense shaded forests where there is less sunlight source.

  3. They are mainly found in tropical as well as temperate regions.

  4. They provide a rich and diverse habitat for other organisms including animals, fungi, bacteria, etc.

  5. Some epiphytes have roots and their main function is to absorb moisture from soil.