Vascular Epiphytes in Forest Ecosystems

Authored by: David H. Benzing

Routledge Handbook of Forest Ecology

Print publication date:  October  2015
Online publication date:  October  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415735452
eBook ISBN: 9781315818290
Adobe ISBN: 9781317816447


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Between 8 and 10 percent of the vascular plants are epiphytic, which means that they spend at least part of their lives anchored on the aerial scaffolding provided by woody hosts (phorophytes). About one in ten is either a xylem-tapping or a holo-parasitic (taps xylem and phloem) type mistletoe, the balance being entirely self-nourished, i.e., autotrophic or free-living. Members of this second category differ most fundamentally by fidelity to arboreal (aerial) versus terrestrial (soil-based) substrates (the obligate versus facultative types) and whether or not the life cycle is spent entirely above the forest floor (the holo-versus hemi-epiphytes respectively). Primary hemi-epiphytes germinate in the canopy and produce root systems that eventually access the ground. The secondary types do the opposite (Figure 14.1). For many species the distinction between liana/vine versus hemi-epiphyte varies depending on local growing conditions. Modifying words such as twig, bark, and ant nest distinguish the holo-epiphytes that mostly always occur on narrowly defined kinds of substrates.

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