There are two main types of plants that grow on other plants, and they are epiphytic or parasitic. They differ from one another because epiphytic plants get their nutrients from the air rather than the tree they live on, whereas parasitic plants drain the tree of all of its nutrients.
Both epiphytes and parasitic plants do attach themselves to the branches of the tree, and they can both harm the tree. However, the parasitic plants do a greater amount of damage to the trees.
Take a look at these common plants that grow on trees.
1 – Tillandsia Cyanea
Tillandsia is the genus for air plants, which are epiphytes. The Tillandsia Cyanea is also known as the Pink Quill Plant. It has a big pink bloom. This plant is found in Ecuador, and it will grow on any tree or plant it can.
It has leaves that are folded, and they collect dew or mist. The water then travels to the stem, and it is absorbed at the base of the plant.
Because it uses this method, it has no roots, so water and nutrients enter the plant through the scales on the folded leaves.
This plant is medium sized, and it grows to between 30 and 50 centimeters in width and 18 to 30 centimeters in height. It survives well because its absorption system is so efficient, and it is easy to grow.
2 – Tillandsia Caput-Medusae
This is another epiphyte, and it is less showy than the cyanea. Its silver leaves are twisted, similar to the snakes on Medusa’s head. It grows in Mexico and parts of Central America, either alone or in clusters of two to twelve plants.
It is the most common of the bromeliad species. It tends to hang upside down, and ants often live in its pseudo-bulb. This plant doesn’t have a stem, and it has bright violet flowers.
3 – Aechmea Fasciata
This epiphyte grows in large colonies in forests in Brazil. It grows slowly, and it can reach 30 to 90 centimeters in height with a spread of up to 60 centimeters.
It has silver strakes through large leaves, and a beautiful pink flower spike. It is a monocarpic plant, which means it bears fruit only once in its life.
4 – Puya Laxa
This epiphyte is tough and slow growing, and it grows in Bolivia. It is an evergreen, and it can be up to 30 or 40 centimeters tall.
The leaves are long and twisted, and they are covered in a silvery fuzzy wool-like substance. It has small royal purple flowers, but they are difficult to see.
5 – Viscum Album (Mistletoe)
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that grows in trees. It grows on woody plants, and it gets its moisture and nutrients from its host.
Branches usually become weak and die when a tree becomes the host to this plant. It is found in North America and Europe on hardwood trees, such as hickory trees, oak trees, red maple trees, and black gum trees.
Mistletoe is an evergreen plant with forked branches and symmetrical green leaves, and it produces little clusters of white berries in the winter. Certain birds, including thrushes, feed on these berries.
6 – Guzmania Lingulata
This plant grows in Central and South America. It is an epiphyte, and it grows close to the ground on small trees. It gets all of its water from mist or dew, and it flowers mostly during the beginning of the rainy season. It has fruit that matures later in the year.
It is native to the rainforests, and it has small roots that function only to attach it to the tree. It has a star shaped flower that can be yellow, orange, mauve, or lavender.
7 – Strepsia Usneoides
This epiphyte is a relative of the pineapple, and It grows throughout the southern United States, Mexico, Central America, the West Indies, and South America. It resembles lichens and mosses, but it is not related.
It has festoons that hang from a tree’s branches, and they can grow to between three and six meters long. This plant is covered with little shield hairs that absorb water and salts from the rain.
When it is dry, the plant appears to be silver. It has no roots.
8 – Tillandsia Crocata
This epiphyte grows in Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay. This plant has silvery green leaves, and it can grow on rocks as well as trees.
It makes clumps that are between 10 to 20 centimeters tall, and it has pretty yellow flowers that carry a wonderful fragrance. They bloom in the spring. In addition, it tolerates droughts well, and it grows very easily.
9 – Cuscuta (Dodder)
This is another parasitic plant. It actually must sprout near soil, and within 10 days of sprouting, it attaches itself to a host tree. If it doesn’t attach within the 10 days, it will die.
It has long yellow leaves that are thin, and these leaves wind their way around a tree and can reach the canopy of the tree. When a tree is infected, it appears to be covered in yellow.
10 – Vines
Vines actually live in trees, even though they have roots in the soil. They climb the tree and use it for support as they make their way up toward the sun.
They can take over a tree and make it difficult for the tree to make its own food and keep its structural strength.
They can be very aggressive, and they are considered invasive for this reason. There are different types, including English Ivy and Morning Glory Ivy.
Sometimes, trees have a pocket where a branch has fallen or a natural crevice has appeared. Seeds from other plants can fall into this crevice and grow. This is different from air plants or epiphytes that gain water and nutrients from the air.
These plants actually grow in soil that is in the crevices in the tree. Types of plants that commonly do this are grasses, small weeds, and other small plants.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.