Epiphytes and Epiliths Explained


Many houseplants that you’re likely to come across may be labeled as epiphytes and some as epiliths, but what do these words actually mean? Luckily I have that answer and am more than happy to help explain it today! So sit back and get ready to learn about two terms that explain certain plants.

First let’s break down these words, which have Greek origins:
Epi: On, over, near, before, after, at, or upon.
Phyte: Plant
Lith: Stone



As the root words imply, an epiphyte is a type of plant that grows on another plant. It gets its water and nutrients from the air, rain, puddles that may accumulate, and debris that can collect in the nooks around it. Although ephiphytes grow on other plants, they are not parasitic, since they get their nutrients from outside sources and don’t steal them from the plant that they’re growing on.

Other common house plants that are epiphytes are air plants, certain types of orchids, Spanish moss, holiday cacti, tropical cacti, staghorn ferns, and bird’s nest ferns.



An epilith, from the roots epi and lith, is a type of plant that grows on top of a stone. Just like epiphytes they get their water and nutrients from the air, rain, puddles, and debris that collects around the plant.

Some common epiliths we keep in our homes are certain types of cacti, such as Schlumbergera, Hatiora, and Epiphyllum, orchids, and lichen.

If you’re looking for more information about air plants click here and if you’re interested in learning more about holiday cacti click here.

If you want to see more examples of epiphytes and epiliths, or just feel like talking to fellow houseplant enthusiasts to share tips and tricks, check out the House Plant Hobbyist Facebook group!