Difference Wiki

Epiphytes vs. Parasites: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on December 16, 2023
Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants for physical support only, while parasites derive nutrition from their host, often harming it.

Key Differences

Epiphytes are plants that grow on the surface of other plants, using them solely for physical support without extracting nutrients from the host plant. Parasites, in contrast, depend on their host for nutrients, often to the host's detriment.
Epiphytes perform photosynthesis and obtain water and nutrients independently, while parasites rely on their host for sustenance, often tapping directly into the host's vascular system.
Epiphytes typically do not harm their host plants, merely coexisting with them. Parasites, however, can weaken or even kill their host by draining essential nutrients.
Examples of epiphytes include orchids and air plants that grow on tree branches, while parasites include mistletoe and certain types of fungi that feed on living organisms.
The relationship of epiphytes with their host plants is commensal, where one organism benefits without affecting the other, whereas parasites engage in a harmful, often destructive relationship with their host.

Comparison Chart

Relationship with Host

Use host for support, not nutrition
Extract nutrients from host, often harmful

Nutritional Dependency

Independent, perform photosynthesis
Dependent on host for food and nutrients

Impact on Host

Generally harmless, non-invasive
Often harmful, weakening or killing the host


Orchids, air plants on trees
Mistletoe, parasitic fungi on plants or animals

Type of Symbiotic Relationship

Commensalism: one benefits, the other is unharmed
Parasitism: one benefits at the expense of the other

Epiphytes and Parasites Definitions


Plants that grow on other plants for support.
Many epiphytes, like certain orchids, are found in tropical rainforests, living on tree branches.


Organisms that live on or in a host and get their food from it.
Tapeworms are parasites that live in the intestines of animals.


Plants obtaining moisture and nutrients from the air.
Air plants, a type of epiphyte, absorb water and nutrients through their leaves.


Organisms that weaken their hosts by extracting nutrients.
Parasitic fungi can severely damage or kill the plants they infest.


Non-parasitic plants living on other plants.
Epiphytes often thrive in tree canopies, utilizing the higher sunlight availability.


Dependent organisms that cannot survive without a host.
Many parasites like certain fleas cannot complete their life cycle without a host.


Plants that use other plants as a physical platform.
Staghorn ferns are epiphytes that attach themselves to tree trunks.


Organisms that harm their host while benefiting themselves.
Mistletoe is a plant parasite that extracts water and nutrients from its host tree.


Plants that do not harm their plant hosts.
Epiphytes coexist with their host trees without depleting their resources


Creatures that engage in a harmful symbiotic relationship.
Mosquitoes act as parasites when feeding on the blood of humans or animals.


A plant, such as a tropical orchid or a staghorn fern, that grows on another plant upon which it depends for mechanical support but not for nutrients.Also called aerophyte, air plant.


(Biology) An organism that lives and feeds on or in an organism of a different species and causes harm to its host.


Plural of epiphyte


One who habitually takes advantage of the generosity of others without making any useful return.


One who lives off and flatters the rich; a sycophant.


A professional dinner guest, especially in ancient Greece.


Plural of parasite


How do parasites obtain nutrients?

Parasites extract nutrients directly from their hosts.

Can epiphytes survive without a host plant?

Yes, epiphytes can survive independently, using the host only for support.

What are epiphytes?

Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants for physical support.

Do epiphytes harm their host plants?

Generally, epiphytes do not harm their host plants.

Are all parasites harmful?

Most parasites are harmful to their hosts, though the degree of harm can vary.

What are parasites?

Parasites are organisms that live off other living beings, often harming them.

Where are epiphytes commonly found?

Epiphytes are common in tropical rainforests, living on tree branches and trunks.

How do epiphytes get water and nutrients?

Epiphytes absorb water and nutrients from the air and rainfall.

Are epiphytes a type of parasite?

No, epiphytes are not parasites; they do not take nutrients from their host.

How do epiphytes benefit from growing on trees?

They benefit from better access to sunlight and air circulation.

How do parasites affect ecosystems?

Parasites can impact ecosystems by altering host populations and behavior.

What is an example of a parasitic plant?

Mistletoe is a well-known example of a parasitic plant.

What environments do parasites thrive in?

Parasites can thrive in a variety of environments, as long as they have a host.

Can epiphytes grow on surfaces other than plants?

While rare, some epiphytes can grow on non-plant surfaces like rocks.

Are there beneficial parasites?

Some parasites can play ecological roles, like controlling host population.

What adaptations do epiphytes have?

They have adaptations for water retention and absorbing nutrients from the air.

Can parasites kill their host?

Yes, some parasites can weaken and eventually kill their hosts.

What's the main difference between epiphytes and parasites?

Epiphytes use hosts for support without harm, while parasites feed on hosts, often causing harm.

Can animals be parasites?

Yes, many animals, like certain worms and insects, are parasites.

Do epiphytes have roots?

Yes, but their roots are primarily for anchoring, not for nutrient absorption.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons