If you’ve been gardening for some time, (or read our recent article on goldfish plants) then you may have heard the term epiphytes. Epiphytes are a certain type of plant, and growing them requires understanding how they grow naturally. In this article we’ll look at exactly what epiphytes are, look at some common varieties you might want to grow indoors, and go over some care tips specific to this category of plant.
What Are Epiphytes
Epiphytes are plants that do not place roots in the ground, but instead grow on the surface of a host plant. Epiphytes are most often found in rainforests around the world where growing on the side of trees has some distinct advantages. It helps them get more light, makes them more accessible to insects for pollination, and helps their seeds catch the wind better to spread further.
An important note is that the relationship between the epiphytes is not a parasitic one. The epiphyte doesn’t get its nutrients from its host, and simply coexists peacefully. That’s to say the epiphytic doesn’t harm its host plant.
This type of growth also means that the majority of the plant’s nutrients comes from the air and not its roots. This makes caring for them a bit different than traditional, soil grown plants.
What Plants Are Epiphytes
You may be surprised to find out that you already have some epiphytes in your garden. Epiphytes are often referred to as “airplants”, and these are popular among many indoor gardeners. Here’s a couple more popular plants that are epiphytes.
Orchids: Many varieties of orchids are epiphytes. These tend to spend their entire growing life on their host plant.
Ferns: Not all ferns, but certain varieties like the bird’s nest fern are epiphyte plants.
Cacti: Certain cacti and succulents are also epiphyte plants.
Goldfish Plant: A beautiful and unique bloon, and also an epiphyte plant.
Fungi: Lots of fungi and certain mosses are epiphytic plants.
That’s just a small sampling, there are thousands more. Estimates put the total worldwide at over 30,000 varieties, so there’s certainly no shortage of these plants.
Epiphytes Care Tips
As noted above, epiphytes don’t grow in soil and instead latch onto a host plant. This changes the care a little bit, and requires you as the gardener to change how you provide your plant its nutrients.
As they don’t have long roots in the soil to absorb water, many of these plants will get their water from the air and their leaves. You’ll notice that many of these plants have cup shaped leaves which helps them catch water.
When watering, look to water the leaves more than the soil. These plants are naturally looking to capture water from their leaves and are built for it.
You also want to avoid having overly wet soil. There still will be some root growth into your potted soil, and this remaining overly moist can harm your plant.
Despite growing on other plants naturally, we can still grow epiphytes in soil and this is often done for indoor plants. That said, we need to make sure that we’re using the correct soil that mimics their natural environment.
You’ll want to look for soil that is filled with organic matter and is very well draining. Orchid soil is a good example of this as it has lots of larger bits you wouldn’t find in traditional potting soil. These types of soil tend to have lots of large pieces of bark and other organic matter. This helps mimic the natural environment of the plant, and provides material for its roots to latch onto.
While these plants tend to grow below the forest canopy they are still usually quite light hungry. This canopy protects them from the brightest light though, so you’ll generally want to provide lots of bright but in-direct light.
Another important aspect is the humidity. Being jungle plants, they are usually used to environments that are very high in humidity.
You should look to do your best to provide a humid environment for your plant to grow. An easy way to do this is to simply mist your plant everyday.
This is an important step as your plant will get a lot of its moisture from the air. A humidity level that is too low is likely to lead to weak and brittle plants. You also want to provide good air circulation. Lack of air circulation can lead to a lack of humidity, which can in turn lead to weak growth in your plant.
Growing Epiphytes Indoors
Epiphytes include a huge range of plants, many of which are commonly grown indoors. Hopefully learning a bit about how they grow in nature will help you take better care of your own plants. Understanding the natural environment for any plant is key to providing it with proper care. The more you learn, the better your garden will ultimately be.