An epiphyte is a non-parasitic plant that grows on another living plant, depending on it only for support. Growing on another plant like a tall tree allows a normally low-growing epiphyte to access more sunlight and avoid browsing animals on the forest floor.

Epiphytes (many types of bromeliads, orchids, ferns, mosses, etc.) are especially common in tropical counties like Costa Rica, and it seemed like every large tree there had more than its fair share of them. Whether due to disease or seasonal leaf drop, this huge tree had lost most of its leaves, revealing its many large epiphytes.

Leafless tree with large epiphytes in Costa Rica

Some of the largest epiphytes in Costa Rica are bromeliads like this one below.

Large bromeliad epiphyte in Costa Rica

The leaves of bromeliads often tightly overlap at the base, forming an urn at the center of the plant that holds reserve water. Insects and frogs like Dink Frogs (Eleutherodactylus diastema) will breed in these small, arboreal pools.

Epiphytic ferns are very common along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, and I often found them growing in the crevices at the leaf bases of palm trees along with other epiphytes.

Epiphytic ferns in a palm in Costa Rica

I also found these adaptable ferns growing out of moss-lined tree trunks.

Ferns growing on a mossy tree trunk in Costa Rica