An epiphyte is any plant that does not live in the soil, have true root systems, and frequently lives on another plant providing no benefit but causing no harm. This differentiates them from symbiotic plants (though they are often symbiotic with many other creatures) or parasitic ones. Epiphytes are often referred to as Air Plants, but this is incorrect as there are aquatic epiphytes, Air plants are arboreal or terrestrial epiphytes. Are epiphytes important? Why?
Epiphytes are important for several reasons. Almost everything is interconnected, especially in a forest or aquatic ecosystem. It is sometimes hard to understand the whole system at once, so individual components of the system are examined separately and then pieced together to better see the whole "picture". Epiphytes are primarily important because they provide this added information on how life forms and works, which helps give a better understanding of the world. How do they work, lets look at this a bit closer.
Epiphytes are also important because they contribute to the biodiversity of the forest. Epiphytes contribute organic matter through dying and decomposition, and their nutrients help others. Their own genetic material also helps to raise the biodiversity of the forest, but they help increase it in other ways as well. Many provide food and living accommodations for specific insects, birds, bats or other mammals. Without the epiphytes, those creatures would perish, disappearing from the face of the Earth forever. This is termed symbiosis and many of the epiphytes are symbiotic. Symbiotic relationships are often complex and can involve several species.
Are epiphytes important in more direct ways? Many are used as decorations in homes and offices, these include orchids, bromilliads, antheriums and climbing philodendrons; beauty and pleasure is important to most people. Some are also used for food, vanilla comes from orchids and the pineapple is a bromilliad, and eating is always important.
Epiphytes also contain a wide variety of compounds, many of which are poisonous, are they important? The poisons definitely are, and not for killing off your neighbour. Most true medicines are poisons and are made from poisons. Many cancer drugs, AIDS medication, and even antibiotics are originally derived from plants, and curing diseases should be important.
How are epiphytes important? They are important for better understanding of the world, providing beauty, as a food supply, and for potential medicines to cure illness! Epiphytes are important!