What Are Phorophytes and How Are They Helpful to Other Plants?

by | Sep 28, 2022 | 0 comments

What are phorophytes? How are they helpful to other plants. Let’s talk about them.

With Hurricane Ian making landfall in Florida this week, I thought about the people it will affect. I can’t imagine what they are going through and my prayers are with them.

I then thought about our South Carolina visit in the early 90s after Hurricane Hugo. It was weird to see the Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) gone from the trees. The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota is one of my favorite gardens and is in the direct path of Ian. They have so many beautiful plants and a conservatory, and I hope there is little damage. They have many large trees as well, which house many other plants.

Do you know what phorophytes are and how they are helpful to other plants? I sure didn’t but now I do.


A phorophyte is a plant an epiphyte lives on. The epiphyte doesn’t take anything from the phorophyte but is using it as a place to live and cling to. “Phoro” translates to bearer or carrier and “phyte” means plant, so it is carrying the plant. I love that! These orchids below were at the Key West Garden Club in the Florida Keys.

 Phorophytes in the Everglades

While visiting the Florida Everglades, we noticed many people stopping along the road to look at plants and birds. It amazed me how many bromeliads (phorophytes) were clinging to the trees. I jumped out with my camera and followed the crowds to see the birds and bromeliads.

I saw this beautiful heron and ran to snap some pictures. Then I looked down…..

I saw this bird….

And saw this huge alligator, which was one of many floating around waiting for one of us tourists to fall in. Those were what the other tourists were looking at. Yikes!

They saw this huge alligator, which was one of many

Look around for phorophytes

When visiting the southern United States, examine the trees and shrubs and you will see epiphytes growing everywhere. These tillandsias below are growing on dead sticks, palm trunks, and a stem of a plant. Seeds land and begin to grow.


Even ferns take advantage of the phorphytes they find to grow on. This bird nest fern (Asplenium) is living its best life on a tree, nestled in the basal fronds of a staghorn fern. Or the staghorn fern is living on the roots of the fern…..?

Either way, they are living together on a tree in the Marie Selby Botanical Garden. The bottom staghorn ferns are also clinging to the tree or phorophyte they have chosen to live on.

Orchid and Tillandsia

I spotted this orchid growing on a tree in a private garden with a little tillandsia nestled into its roots. 


The palm tree trunk is hard to see beneath this epiphyllum or orchid cactus growing up it. Even though it looks as if it is harming the palm, it is not. It is not a parasite like the mistletoe I wrote about here.

orchid cactus on a tree

Look out for these plants

When you are in a tropical region where epiphytes grow, check out what they are growing on. It is a phorophyte. Usually, the epiphyte starts as a seed or spores in the case of ferns.

If they dislike the bark or surface of the plant they have landed on, whether because of the type of plant, the bark, or its chemical makeup, they won’t grow.

I didn’t think it mattered but read this interesting article from ScienceDirect. com. It turns out some are picky.  Who knew? They grow on telephone lines and other objects in Florida. I didn’t think they would be too picky about where they landed. I love the lichens growing with the epiphytes below.

Did you learn something you didn’t know before today? I did. Isn’t nature amazing?

Have a great week, plant friends!


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