What are epiphytes?

Published on January 10th 2019
You’ll see and hear the word epiphyte everywhere when it comes to houseplants and understanding what an epiphyte is can help with its growing needs.
What does ‘epiphyte’ mean? It comes from the Greek epi- and phyton, meaning ‘upon plant’. In the wild, epiphytes usually grow in rainforests.
The air here is so humid that they are able to grow directly on the trees that form these jungles, usually taking root in the nook of a branch.
Need to identify a plant? Download Candide to get instant Plant ID
Download on the App StoreGet it on Google Play
Many mosses and ferns pioneer these branches, making a base for larger species to colonise later.
This gives a good indication of how most epiphytes like to grow. They prefer a light growing medium, orchid compost is a good example, as this does not hold on to excess moisture in the way soil does.
Some don’t need any soil at all! High humidity is preferred and either misting or sitting over gravel helps. As they usually sit high up in the trees, nearer to the sun, but still filtered through branches, they like bright light but not direct, scorching summer sun.
Some of these epiphytes have evolved to absorb water through their leaves, such as the staghorn fern and, most famously, air plants.
Despite their unusual growing conditions, most species are relatively easy to grow and have become very popular, particularly with the latest revival in houseplants.

Here are 5 beginner’s epiphytes:

  • Moth orchid (Phalaenopsis spp.)
  • Staghorn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum)
  • Bromeliads, including Aechmea (urn plant), Vriesia (flaming sword) and Guzmania
  • Christmas and Easter cacti (Schlumbergera and Rhipsalis spp.)
  • Air plants & Spanish moss (Tillandsia spp.)

And 5 more for those who prefer a challenge:

  • Anthurium (some Anthurium spp.)
  • Medinilla (Medinilla magnifica)
  • Goldfish plant (Columnea gloriosa)
  • Vanda orchid species
  • Hare’s foot fern (Davallia canariensis)
Free download for your phone or tablet
Download on the App StoreGet it on Google Play

Lots to see

Making plans to stay local or explore a new area? Use the Places map to explore and find out more details of gardens around your current location. To find gardens and garden centres near you download our free app.
Download on the App StoreGet it on Google Play