Tip of the Week – Focus on Epiphytes

Epiphytes are plants that grow on trees. They do no harm to the tree and produce their own energy by photosynthesis. Epi- from Greek means upon and -phyte comes from the Greek word phyton for plant. The Epiphyte uses the tree as a structure to grow upon. Epiphytes produce spectacular flowers.

Plant Types

They can be Orchids, Bromeliads including Tillandsias, Ferns, Mosses, Lichens, Cacti , Nepenthes and Aroids such as Anthurium, Monstera, Philodendron. Many plants we have come to know as house plants are Epiphytes eg Lipsticks like Columnea, Aeschynanthus and Nematanthus Goldfish plants. Hoyas are mostly climbing epiphytes. You will notice how they can cling onto a host with aerial roots.

Growth Mode

They begin their life in the tree canopy as seeds spread by birds or wind borne spore.
They often have a thickish root that can cling on and does not disinegrate in the air. Some may start off on a host and then send aerial roots into the ground. Some epiphytes like most hoyas are climbers.

Water Requirements

It is important to recognise that a plant is an epiphyte because epiphytes dont like being drowned with water in a pot. You can see why if you observe how it is sitting on its host and when it rains it absorbs very little water….the rain just runs off!! So when these plants go into pot culture they require a very well drained potting mix.
Different plants need more or less drainage and some could not care less.
eg Even in the one group like the Bromeliads some will grow in soil and others need a very well drained mix. So if you do not know for sure its always best to use a well drained mix.

Epiphyte Mixes

You can buy dedicated orchid mixes & bromeliad mixes which have a lot of coarse material to increase drainage. If you get some 10-15mm pine  bark from the Landscape Yard you can use this. Its difficult to compost this size material (using nitrogen) but if you let it age it will be good to use after a year. You can also leach out the tannins in it with water or steam it. Anyway when you have some coarse material you can mix in say 20-50% with a regular potting mix and get the drainage you want. Add 10% fine  blue metal and/or charcoal…plants like these as a treat.

Growing on Wood

All epiphytes can be grown on logs, boards etc and you can soon develop a living sculpture masterpiece of your own. Simply tie the plant (mainly where the roots) are onto the host with some stocking or grafting tape making sure the roots have good contact with the host….make it tight. Keep in the shade and keep moist for a few weeks until the roots grow onto the host. It does not take long.


Any liquid fertiliser will be fine….fish and kelpare great. Use a weak solution and spray as often as you can (weekly) for a while to help establishment. In pots add osmocote or similar slow release. Have fun with your Epiphytes they are great easy plants.

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