P71108A plant that clings to another plant for support without parasitizing it is an epiphyte. Some do it to get a bit more sunlight closer to the ceiling of a dense forest. Others do it to get up off of the forest floor to avoid competition with conventionally terrestrial plants. Maybe some just want to avoid grazing animals. It is often difficult to determine why plants do what they do.

Spider plants, ephiphyllums and many types of orchids, bromeliads and ferns are some of the more familiar epiphytes. Most do not actually cling to trees. They instead live in the crotches of limbs where debris from the foliar canopy above accumulates. Either way, they do not need much organic matter in which to disperse their roots, and some need none at all. Many collect what they need from the air and precipitation.

This is not about an epiphyte.

It is about a Mexican fan palm that thought it was epiphyte.

You might have though that the picture above depicts a common Mexican fan palm next to a surly London planetree. With closer inspection, you will notice that the palm lacks a trunk at ground level. The utility pole visible below the palm is not attached to it, and does not support it. Yet, the palm does not just hover there. It grew from a cavity in the London planetree.

Most of us know how many plants self sow in weird places. Sometimes they appear where they are welcome. Usually, they end up in pots with other plants, too close to pavement, or in rain gutters that have not been cleaned out enough. Of course, big trees commonly appear under utility cables. Once in a while something self sows in a decaying cavity of a tree.

Most of us have enough sense to remove self sown trees and plants that appears where they can not live for long without causing problems. Those of us who hire gardeners tend to trust and hope that the gardeners would exhibit the same sort of common sense. After all, that is part of what they are payed significant money for.

Unfortunately, Mexican fan palms are not epiphytic. They are just too heavy, even when young.

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11 thoughts on “Epiphyte

    1. No. The pole is just a utility pole of some sort. Only the foliage was touching it. Brent is actually taking that tree to La Brea Avenue to plant it as a street tree. It will stay damp through winter, so should disperse new roots next year. Of course, the trunk will be curved at the base. The trees on La Brea Avenue are irregular anyway, so it will fit right in. La Brea Avenue is where we put all the weird palms that do not fit in anywhere else.

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      1. Wow – I can’t imagine it got that big without anyone rescuing it… WOW! I’m so glad it will finally get a new home – and in a place where its quirkiness will fit right in, to boot. On behalf of the palm – thank you both! Also, would love to see a picture of La Brea Avenue some time, too, if you haven’t posted one already. It sounds really intriguing!

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      2. La Brea Avenue is actually not the most impressive of Brent’s work. It is a wide street with random trees. The smaller residential street are where you can really see the trees at their best. I wrote about it for a few days from now, and included one picture of Orange Drive in Los Angeles. The median of San Vicente Boulevard was the most fun because it was such a big area that we planted in more than once!

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    1. The palm tree is usually the victim. The big Canary Island date palms often get shrubbery or ivy growing in them. A desert fan palm in Brent’s neighborhood had a ficus growing in it in a real nasty way. The ficus rooted through the palm trunk down to the ground, just like it would have done in a jungle, but it was on a desert tree that was completely unfamiliar with this sort of behavior.

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