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Pronunciation: ep-ê-fait Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A plant or fungus that grows on other plants but is not parasitic; it derives all its nutrients from air and rain, such as Spanish moss.

Notes: This word is a captive of botany, perhaps rightly so. Epiphytes are sometimes called aerophytes "air plants". We have three adjectives to choose from: epiphytic, epiphytous, and epiphytal. There are no more blood relatives, but there are a passel of relatives by marriage, including lithophyte "plant that grow on stones", geophyte "bulb and tuber plant", hydrophyte "plant that grows in water."

In Play: Mistletoe is a parasite, not an epiphyte: "The trunks of the trees in her new subtropical back yard were covered with epiphytes, bromeliads, and orchids that lent them a furry bear quality." According to Wikipedia, "Banyan trees are an example of a strangler fig that begins life as an epiphyte in the crown of another tree."

Word History: Greek lent us today's Good Word from its epiphytos, made up of epi "(up)on" + fyton "plant". Greek inherited its epi from PIE epi/opi "near, at, by", also behind Sanskrit api "also, too", Latin ob "before, in front of", Russian ob "around, about", Albanian epërm "upper, superior", Lithuanian apie "about", and Latvian apkart "about". Greek created phyton from PIE bheu- "to be; to grow", source also of Sanskrit bhavati "is, there is, becomes", Latin fui "I have been", Lithuanian būti "to be", Latvian būt "to be", Russian byt' "to be" and budu "I will (be)", Serbian biti "to be", English be and been, Irish beith "being, entity", Welsh bod "being, existence", (Now another double 'thank you' to Luciano Eduardo de Oliveira, long-time editor of this series and prolific contributor of Good Words like today's.)

Dr. Goodword,

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