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What’s In Bloom – Epiphytes

Selby Gardens is featured weekly on ABC7 News at Noon. Tune in Thursdays to see more informative segments like this one.

Something that sets Marie Selby Botanical Gardens apart from other botanical gardens is that we specialize in the research, culture and display of epiphytic plants. An epiphyte is a plant which grown upon another plant, but does not take anything from it like a parasite would. Here in Florida we have an opportunity to observe dozens of species of epiphytes in their natural habitat. For the most part, our epiphytes are ferns, orchids and bromeliads, and they often grow together.

Our most common epiphytic fern, and perhaps the most interesting, is resurrection fern, Pleopeltis polypioides. It gets its common name from the fact that during dry spells, it can lose almost all of its water, at which point it curls up looking brown and dead. After one good rain, all of the fronds unfurl once more, “coming back to life” as a thick, green carpet, usually blanketing oak trees.

Of all our native orchid species, you’re most likely to spot a butterfly orchid. When in bloom, it puts out a spray of brown to yellow to orange flowers that dance in the breeze. When not in bloom, they look like a cluster of green cocktail onions growing on an oak limb.

Then there are the bromeliads, Florida’s epiphytic champs. Most people don’t realize that the plants they refer to mostly as mosses are in the same flowering family as pineapples. “Spanish moss,” Tillandsia usenoides, is undoubtedly the most common, and the most commonly misunderstood. One of the most frequent questions we are asked about is if Spanish moss is killing oak trees. Bottom line: Spanish moss and other Tillandsia species are not bad for your oaks.

If you’re interested in epiphytes, Selby Gardens is the place to learn more about them. From our Tropical Conservatory to our oaks outside, everything here is covered in epiphytes. We hope we inspired you to start scouting our area’s trees for these unique plants. Thanks for watching – we hope to see you in the Gardens!

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