epi·​phyte ˈe-pə-ˌfīt How to pronounce epiphyte (audio)
: a plant that derives its moisture and nutrients from the air and rain and grows usually on another plant

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Epiphytic plants are sometimes known as "air plants" because they seemingly survive on thin air. They rely on their host plants merely for physical support, not nourishment. Tropical epiphytes include orchids, ferns, and members of the pineapple family. To a newcomer in the tropical rain forest, the first sight of a great tree with large epiphytes hanging from every level can be eerie and astonishing. Familiar epiphytes of the temperate zone include lichens, mosses, and algae, which may grow on rocks or water without touching the soil.

Examples of epiphyte in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Most orchids are epiphytes in their native jungle-like environments. Megan Hughes, Better Homes & Gardens, 18 Mar. 2024 Use a mix of inorganic and organic soil to mimic its native epiphyte environment. Kaitlyn Yarborough, Southern Living, 4 Dec. 2023 The trees had epiphytes, ferns, bromeliads, and orchids running up their trunks, adding a furry, Dr. Seuss quality to them. John Bowe, Travel + Leisure, 18 Oct. 2023 Plus, the property is covered with beautiful oak trees dripping with Spanish Moss (or epiphyte), which provides a dreamy touch to your special day. Dominique Fluker, Essence, 19 Sep. 2023 All of these are epiphytes, plants that use the structure of others to support themselves. Jason Thomson, The Christian Science Monitor, 16 Aug. 2023 Amid the lush marshes and tidal waters of the Lowcountry and under the large trees dripping with Spanish Moss (or epiphyte) lies a unique history that’s layered and nuanced, especially for Black people. Dominique Fluker, Essence, 19 June 2023 Plant Attributes Common Name Moth orchid, Phal Botanical Name Phalaenopsis spp. Family Orchidaceae Plant Type Tender perennial, epiphyte Mature Size 6-36 in. Southern Living Editors, Southern Living, 16 June 2023 Another epiphyte, this unique plant has grey-green fronds covered with a silvery felt. Kate McGregor, housebeautiful.com, 21 Apr. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'epiphyte.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

circa 1847, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of epiphyte was circa 1847

Dictionary Entries Near epiphyte

Cite this Entry

“Epiphyte.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/epiphyte. Accessed 20 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


: a plant that gets moisture and the materials needed to make its food from the air and rain and that usually grows on another plant

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