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Air Plants Epiphytes and Aerial Gardens by David H. Benzing

Air Plants Epiphytes and Aerial Gardens


Air Plants Epiphytes and Aerial Gardens by David H. Benzing

Often growing far above the ground, air plants (or epiphytes) defy many of our common perceptions about plants. The majority use their roots only for attachment in the crowns of larger, usually woody plants-or to objects such as rocks and buildings-and derive moisture and nutrients from the atmosphere and by collecting falling debris. Only the mistletoes are true parasites. Epiphytes are not anomalies and there are approximately 28,000 species-about 10 percent of the higher or vascular plants-that grow this way. Many popular houseplants, including numerous aroids, bromeliads, ferns, and orchids, rank among the most familiar examples. In Air Plants, David H. Benzing takes a reader on a tour of the many taxonomic groups to which the epiphytes belong and explains in nontechnical language the anatomical and physiological adaptations that allow these plants to conserve water, thrive without the benefit of soil, and engage in unusual relationships with animals such as frogs and ants. Benzing's comprehensive account covers topics including ecology, evolution, photosynthesis and water relations, mineral nutrition, reproduction, and the nature of the forest canopy as habitat for the free-living and parasitic epiphytes. It also pays special attention to important phenomena such as adaptive trade-offs and leaf economics. Drawing on the author's deep experience with epiphytes and the latest scientific research, this book is accessible to readers unfamiliar with technical botany; it features a lavish illustration program, references, a glossary, and tables.


More than twenty years after his highly praised technical monograph on vascular epiphytes, David H. Benzing leaves the ivory tower and publishes a book on 'air plants
for a broader audience. His enthusiasm for epiphytes is contagious

; every page is filled with insights gained in a lifetime devoted to the study of these plants. Highly readable, his account is still technically correct and a very stimulating read not only for the layperson but also for any biology student or biologist with an interest in epiphytes. -Gerhard Zotz, University of Oldenburg and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Inspired by seeing an unusual plant at a childhood birthday party that led to a distinguished academic career, David H. Benzing has devoted his lifelong research to epiphytes, the extraordinary botanical denizens of the canopy. This book represents a comprehensive text covering all facets of air plants, required reading for both professional botanists and plant-lovers alike. -Margaret D. Lowman, Director of the Nature Research Center, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and Research Professor of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, North Carolina State University, author of Life in the Treetops David Benzing's exuberance is evident throughout this book. His love of epiphytes . . . captivates the reader . . . . Benzing's is a well-conceived and well-executed testimony to epiphytes and serves to bring together up-to-date information about these not very well understood plants. It provides a basis for further inquiry to round out our understanding of this peculiar life style of plants and points out areas where further study would be productive. -William Stern, Plant Science Bulletin (Fall 2013) Modest in size, but not in content and scope, Benzing's pithy gem of a synthesis appears 22 years after his technical monograph, Vascular Epiphytes (1990). . . . Summing Up: Highly recommended. -R. Schmid, Choice (November 2012) Benzing's love for epiphytes is clearly evident, and the book provides an excellent introduction to the field. . . . By starting from first principles, it provides a tidy introduction to field botany to an undergraduate audience. . . . All the basic principles of botany are covered using epiphytes as model organisms. . . . The systematic overview of epiphyte diversity in particular provides an important, holistic grounding in epiphyte taxonomy, biogeography, and systematics. . . . There is something in it for everyone, from newcomers to plant biology to those who regularly climb trees to do their research. -K. C. Burns, Ecology (March 2013)

About the Author

David H. Benzing is Professor of Biology Emeritus at Oberlin College and the Jessie B. Cox Chair in Tropical Biology at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. He is the author of Bromeliaceae: Profile of an Adaptive Radiation, Vascular Epiphytes: General Biology and Associated Biota, and The Biology of the Bromeliads and coauthor of The Native Bromeliads of Florida.

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Book Info

Publication date

29th May 2012


David H. Benzing

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Comstock Publishing Associates an imprint of Cornell University Press


256 pages


Trees, wildflowers & plants



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