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.

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web Arranged into a seemingly pulsing orb, masses of epiphyte seeds conjure an entire universe. Mark Jenkins, Washington Post, 5 July 2019 The 15-acre garden, on Sarasota Bay, was established in 1971 as the only botanical garden in the world focused solely on the study of epiphytes, which include many orchid species. New York Times, 16 Feb. 2018 After Marie Selby died in 1971, leaving the property to the city, a board of directors consulted with experts from New York Botanical Garden and the University of Florida and chose to make the garden distinctive by focusing on epiphytes. New York Times, 16 Feb. 2018 Ball moss is an epiphyte (air plant) that makes its living from the air, not from the host plant. San Antonio Express-News, 23 Feb. 2018 These plants are epiphytes and take nothing from the azaleas but at times compete for foliage sites. Tom Maccubbin, OrlandoSentinel.com, 3 June 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'epiphyte.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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 28 Nov. 2022.

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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