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What are epiphytes?

What does a plant need to live? Light, water, nutrients – and don’t forget space. In tropical rain forests, competition for these resources is especially fierce. One group of plants has developed a unique strategy to literally secure their place in the sun: they grow on other plants! Biologists call these organisms “epiphytes”.

In the tropics, trees can be almost completely covered with different kinds of epiphytes. Since they don’t withdraw water or nutrients from their host, they’re not considered parasites, like the mistletoe found in Europe. Mistletoe actually burrows suckers into the host tree and extracts water and nutrients. The roots of true epiphytes, by contrast, never penetrate the bark of their host plant. Instead, they cling to the surface of the bark, or take root in the patches of moss and thin deposits of humus that develop on the branches.

Epiphytes are no parasites; they only take advantage of the host tree to conquer a portion of light.

Audio file download
What are epiphytes? (MP3, 500 KB)

Audio production and copyright: Soundgarden Audioguidance GmbH
Text: Andreas Gröger und Günter Gerlach, Botanischer Garten München-Nymphenburg

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