Epiphytes, also called "air plants", are plants that grow on top of other plants, such as on tree bark. Most orchids are included in this category, and this greatly influences orchid care! (In fact, one of the first orchid genera described, Epidendrum, literally translates as "on top of trees.") Having the ability to not grow in dirt gives orchids access to places with little competition, and/or to elevates them closer to the light. It's one of the reasons for orchids' success!

Lithophytes are plants that grow on rocks, and are sometimes put in the same category, though this isn't technically correct.

Epiphytic orchids appreciate getting a lot of air to their roots! They don't want to sit in water, or be buried in dirt. See the orchid potting mix page to learn more about what to pot orchids in. Orchids are also often grown mounted on slabs of bark or in teak baskets and net pots so that their roots are fully exposed to air; see orchid pots and repotting orchids for more.

Air plants tend to like quite a bit of humidity, as this helps them avoid drying out. They also don't usually appreciate going a long time without water.

In nature, many air plants actually grow in the notches of trees, where dead leaves collect, or in clumps of moss, or any other place that tends to retain water better than bare tree bark!

Epiphytic orchids have a number of special adaptations to their roots to help them cling to trees and gather moisture from the air.

The other well-known kind of air plants that a lot of people grow are bromeliads. They are totally unrelated to orchids, and retain water by arranging their leaves in a vaselike pattern so that water collects in the crown of the plant! Orchids and bromeliads often grow together in the wild, so they make good companion plants in cultivation too.

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