epiphyte (ĕpˈəfĪtˌ) [key] or air plant, any plant that does not normally root in the soil but grows upon another living plant while remaining independent of it except for support (thus differing from a parasite). An epiphyte manufactures its own food (see photosynthesis) in the same way that other green plants do, but obtains its moisture from the air or from moisture-laden pockets of the host plant, rather than from the soil. Some epiphytes are found in every major group of the plant kingdom. Of the flowering plants, the best-known epiphytes are orchids and bromeliads, such as Spanish moss. Epiphytes may grow upon the trunk, branches, or leaves of the host plant, sometimes so thickly as to damage the original plant by crowding out its leaves. They are most abundant in the moist tropics.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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