Epiphytes

Epiphytes are commonly known as ‘air plants’ as they do not grow directly from the soil. They thrive on other plants, deriving the required nutrients from the host plant or trees. These plants also obtain nutrients from other sources like air, rainwater, etc. Besides, they live on other bigger trees which support them in growing. However, these host trees do not provide epiphytic plants with any kind of nutrients.

For more in-depth knowledge on what are epiphytes, read further and prepare yourself for the NEET exam. 

Characteristic Features of Epiphytes

As already mentioned, epiphytes grow on other trees to derive physical support. These plants are mainly found in rainforests. However, they are not dependent on them for food as these plants prepare their own food. Apart from this primary feature, they have certain other features too. These are discussed below -

  • Growth environment

These plants are found both in temperate and tropical regions. Since such areas are dense, there is a massive competition in deriving the necessary sunlight and water for growth. Hence, bigger trees provide an apt support for these plants to grow.

  • Epiphytic roots

The roots of epiphytes are aerial and do not grow inside the soil. As they rely on the bigger rainforest trees, they anchor their roots on to those trees. Such roots perform different functions in different plants. While some absorb water from the host tree, others assimilate moisture from nature. Look at the image below. It shows an epiphyte clinging on to a more towering tree. 

  • Plant types

These plants are mostly angiosperms or flowering plants. Hence, these specifically include a large variety of orchids. Even ferns, liverworts, mosses are also listed under this category. In some epiphytes, such as Strangler fig, the roots may grow till the soil too. 

  • Seed dispersal

The epiphytes adaptations have made them extremely reliant on wind for seed dispersal. They have winged or feathery seeds which can easily travel with the help of air to distant places. Among other instances, animals also help in seed dispersal as they feed on the fruit-bearing epiphytes.

  • Enriching ecosystem

The epiphytic plants reinforce an enriched environment in the forests. They provide newer areas where other species can breed and derive nutrition from. For example, some plants have upturned leaves which can store massive amounts of water.  Other animals often use such areas for shelter and breeding. 

You must have a clear understanding of the epiphytes so as to prepare for NEET adequately. Notably, students often confuse them with parasites. However, both are different from each other. Read along to find out their differences.

Refer to the two pictures below. The first image shows an epiphytic plant and the second one shows a parasitic plant.

The feature common between them is that both live on other host trees. However, various other features distinguish them. To know more about those features along with parasitic plants and epiphytes examples, refer to this table below.

Epiphytes and Parasites - Differences

Sl. No.

Basis of difference

Epiphyte plants

Parasite plants

1

Type

These are plants that grow on other plants.

These are living organisms that thrive on other plants.

2

Nutrients 

They do not derive food from the host plant.

They feed on the host plant and depend entirely on it.

3

Effect 

They do not harm the host plant, though they may kill it in some instances.

They necessarily harm the host plant by a considerable measure.

4

Dependence 

They do not depend on the host plant for metabolic activities.

They depend on the host plant for every kind of metabolic activity. 

5

Support 

These plants depend on the host tree for physical growth.

These organisms do not depend on the host plant for physical growth.


Hence, it is clear that both epiphytes and parasites are entirely different living beings - one is a plant while the other is an organism. Let us look into some examples for a better understanding.

Types and Examples of Epiphytes

Categorically, they are divided into three types, which are -

  • Proto-epiphytes: These do not have roots and depend entirely on the host.

  • Holo-epiphytes: They live their entire life on the host and prepare their own food.

  • Hemi-epiphytes: They grow into the ground over their lifetime and die eventually.

Common examples of epiphytic plants include ferns, bromeliad, orchids, few species of cactus, mosses, etc.

Altogether, the topic of epiphytes can be quite troublesome while studying. Having to remember it distinctively requires an understanding from the grassroots. Consequently, it is essential that you note its subtopics and related concepts in detail.

Tips to Make the Most of Your Time

Smart studying is the need of the hour. While studying epiphytic plants, make sure to revise the entire chapter since there are numerous minute details which are quite crucial. Also, mark the important terminologies along with learning the definitions and laws. You should also solve as many questions as possible. While making your own notes, especially focus on the weaker areas.

Along with studying what are epiphytes and other chapters for your NEET, alsp get adequate sleep and maintain a proper diet for healthy learning. Only a fit body and mind can sustain the exam pressure and eventually score good marks.

All the best!

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What are epiphytes?

Ans. Epiphytes are plants that live on other plants and make their food there. Though they do not derive nutrition from those plants or trees, they anchor to those trees for physical support.

2. How are they different from parasites?

Ans. The main difference between epiphytic and parasitic plants is their nature of living.  While the former does not derive nutrients from the host plant, the latter derives food and nutrients from the organism it lives on.

3. How symbiotic is the relationship between epiphytes and their hosts?

Ans. No, the epiphytes do not possess symbiotic relationship as the host plant does not derive any benefit from it. Only the epiphytes are dependent on host trees, primarily for their physical support and nutrition, in some cases.

4. What are some examples of epiphytes?

Ans. Some examples of epiphytic plants are orchids, ferns, mosses, bromeliads, few cacti, etc.