Hemi-epifyt growing on tree

What is an epiphyte and which epiphyte plants are the prettiest?

Welcome back to the wonderful world of plants! As you might know, there are many plants with special abilities, think about air purifying, reducing our stress levels, or boosting our creativity. But there are some plants that would rather take advantage of the abilities of other plants in being able to thrive themselves. If the word Epiphyte popped into your head, you are correct! Within this article, we will dive into all the ins and outs of epiphytes and of course, a few very beautiful epiphyte species that you might want to adopt into your urban jungle!

Fun fact! Even the name ‘epiphyte’ refers to the way they grow. Translated from Greek, ‘epi’ means ‘on top of’ and ‘phyte’ means ‘plant’. Pretty cool if you ask us!

What is an epiphyte?

As mentioned before, an epiphyte grows upon another plant, but an epiphyte does not harm the plant that it grows upon. So you can call this plant a non-parasitic plant. They simply co-exist with their host. So you could basically say that they will have a supporting friend. :)

Epiphytes have no attachment to the ground or any other nutrient source. They can have a tough time actually getting the nutrients that they need without this attachment. Some epiphytes have the ability to retrieve nutrients from the air, which are caught with little hairs on their foliage, called ‘trichomes’. Other epiphytes benefit from debris, animal droppings, or old leaves, which nutrients are absorbed in rainwater which later on falls down on the plant. So even though they might have a hard time sometimes with getting their nutrients they manage to do it all on their own in the end.

Fun fact! Unlike succulents, epiphytes are not necessarily related to each other. The term epiphyte solely refers to the way the plant grows.

Epiphyte growing in tree.jpg

So what does an epiphyte plant gain from growing on top of another plant?

What they gain from growing on top of other plants is having a supporting friend for life, but they also gain access to more light, a bigger amount of animals that help with pollinating the plant, and their seeds can fly away with the wind more easily.

What type of epiphytes are there?

The term epiphyte is quite broad and there are 2 different types of epiphytes.

Hemi epiphyte

This type of epiphyte only spends part of its life growing on top of another plant. They send their roots downwards towards the ground, when they have reached the ground it will establish into the soil.

Holo epiphyte

This type of epiphyte grows its entire life growing on top of another plant. This plant will never make contact with the ground.

How do you care for an Epiphyte?

You can imagine that when plants naturally grow on top of a tree, this will require some special care in our urban jungles. Remember that there are 2 types of epiphytes, which both require different care. This care guide is especially for epiphytes that are holo epiphytes. Hemi epiphytes, which only live on top of other plants for a part of their life will require different care than the information provided here. Air plants, like Tillandsia, are also considered to be epiphytes and also need different types of care. We know, our job as PLNTSparents can be challenging, but also super fun to gain knowledge about the fascinating plant realm. So if you are ready for some epiphytic plant care tips, here we go!

You can start with a special soil mix that will replace the trees they normally grow on top of. We actually have created a substrate kit, especially for epiphytic plants. We would recommend mixing these substrates according to the following ratio: 85% tree bark, and 10% sphagnum moss. 3% perlite and 2% charcoal. This will make your epiphyte plant more than happy!

Expert tip! Epiphytes are more than suitable to grow inside a kokedama! This fun little project will display your epiphytic plant beautifully! If you are interested in making one, you can check out this blog: DIY: How to make a kokedama ball.

Epiphyte in Kokedama ball.jpg

Epiphytes naturally grow in a warm and humid environment and actually thrive in these types of conditions. That is why you might want to increase the humidity around the plant. The actual preference for the humidity percentage and temperature can differ per plant species, since epiphytes are within so many different plant families. But keep in mind that the humidity should be rather high, rather than medium or low.

Pretty epiphyte plant species to get inspired

Monstera Deliciosa Variegata

The Monstera Deliciosa Variegata is a gorgeous plant species with large fenestrated leaves and this rare variant has a stunning variegated print on top. These plants grow in trees naturally, where they can climb high in trees with their aerial roots. These plants can be holo epiphytic, but very rarely can live as hemi epiphytes.

Monstera Deliciosa Variegata.jpg

Photo by philobrandonn & @iifolia

Lipstick plant (Aeschynanthus marmoratus)

This beauty has green foliage with flowers that look quite a bit like lipstick. That is also where her common name ‘Lipstick Plant’ comes from. Not weird that the plant lovers have thought of something that is easier to pronounce than her Latin name. This epiphyte grows very well inside sphagnum moss and is pretty easygoing!

Lipstick plant.jpg

Photo by @kokodamacollection & @amelies_garden2020

Dischidia Ovata

This plant family has species that stay rather small and have the cutest foliage. This is the Dischidia Ovata and she is especially adorable due to her watermelon-like leaves. She will grow long trailing vines covered with these leaves. You can either grow her on wood covered in sphagnum moss or make a special potting mix to meet her needs.

Dischidia Ovata.jpg

Photo by @my_green_mess & @sproutinmyheart

**And there are many more pretty epiphytic plants. ** Are you curious about these plant species? Then you might want to take a look at our other blog, 12 pretty plants that grow as an epiphyte.

Our epiphyte blog has come to an end, we hope this blog may answer any question you may have regarding epiphytes, but if you still have questions you can reach out to us, we are here to help! And if you are growing epiphytes and would like to share them with us, you can tag us on Instagram with the hashtag #PLNTS. We are looking forward to seeing your green friends there!


Carlijn is probably one of the biggest plant geeks ever. She is always on the lookout for new gems and loves to share all her plant knowledge, tips and inspiration with our community!

19 October 2023
Hi, I'm Emma, your PLNTS.com guide!

Hi, I’m Emma, your PLNTS.com guide!