(c) Alfindra Primaldhi, CC BY 2.0
Nepenthes growing as a lithophyte in Raja Ampat, New Guinea

Lithophytes are plants that grow in or on rocks. They can be classified as either epilithic (or epipetric) or endolithic; epilithic lithophytes grow on the surfaces of rocks, while endolithic lithophytes grow in the crevices of rocks (and are also referred to as chasmophytes).[1] Lithophytes can also be classified as being either obligate or facultative. Obligate lithophytes grow solely on rocks, while facultative lithophytes will grow partially on a rock and on another substrate simultaneously.[2]


Lithophytes that grow on land feed off nutrients from rain water and nearby decaying plants, including their own dead tissue. It is easier for Chasmophytes to acquire nutrients because they grow in fissures in rocks where soil or organic matter has accumulated. For most Lithophytes, nitrogen is only available through interactions with the atmosphere. The most readily available form of nitrogen in the atmosphere is the gaseous state of ammonia (NH3). Lithophytes consume atmospheric ammonia through a concentration gradient that allows the compound to traverse the plants' apoplast. Once free in the apoplast, gaseous ammonia is absorbed into metabolic cells by the enzyme glutamine synthetase.[3] To be able to absorb the few nutrients available on rocks or rocky substrates efficiently, Lithophytes have evolved certain adaptations. They possess decreased numbers of root hairs and larger root diameters in comparison to other plant species. To add to this nutrient uptake efficiency, lithophytic plants have increased their relationship with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and dark septate endophyte fungi. These two types of fungi live inter- and intracellularly with the roots of Lithophytes and a wide variety of other plant species. They increase the uptake of nutrients and water and have been found in greater concentrations in Lithophytes.[2]


Examples of lithophytes include several Paphiopedilum orchids, ferns, many algae and liverworts. Lithophytes have also been found in many other plant families, such as, Liliaceae, Amaryllidaceae, Begoniaceae, Caprifoliaceae, Crassulaceae, Piperaceae and Selaginellaceae.[4]

Rock Felt Fern, Elkhorn fern, Birds Nest Fern and moss growing on Hawkesbury Sandstone at Chatswood West, Australia

Carnivorous plants

As nutrients tend to be rarely available to lithophytes or chasmophytes, many species of carnivorous plants can be viewed as being pre-adapted to life on rocks. By consuming prey, these plants can gather more nutrients than non-carnivorous lithophytes.[5] Examples include the pitcher plants Nepenthes campanulata and Heliamphora exappendiculata, many Pinguicula and several Utricularia species.

See also


  1. ^ Christy, Arun; Thomas, Binu (June 26, 2020). "Phytodiversity of Chasmophytic Habitats at Olichuchattam Waterfalls, Kerala, India". Journal of Threatened Taxa. 12 (9): 16099–16109.
  2. ^ a b Muthukumar, Thangavelu; Chinnathambi, Marimuthu; Priyadharsini, Perumalsamy (July 11, 2016). "Root fungal associations in some non-orchidaceous vascular lithophytes". doi:10.1590/0102-33062016abb0074. Retrieved 2021-06-04.
  3. ^ Tozer, W.C.; Hackell, D.; Miers, D.B.; Silvester, W.B. (2005). "Extreme Isotopic Depletion of Nitrogen in New Zealand Lithophytes and Epiphytes; the Result of Diffusive Uptake of Atmospheric Ammonia?". Oecologia. 144: 628–635.
  4. ^ Angalan, Norbert; Reyes, Gaudelia; Gomez, Romeo (2014). "Ture Measure of Lithophytes Diversity Across Microclimates". Journal of Natural Studies. 13.
  5. ^ McPherson, S.R. (2010). Carnivorous Plants and their Habitats. Volume 1. Redfern Natural History Productions, Poole. pp. 176–180.

Media files used on this page

Lithophytes at Chatswood West.jpg
Author/Creator: Poyt448 Peter Woodard, Licence: CC0
Birds Nest Fern, Elkhorn Fern and Rock Felt Fern, Chatswood west on Hawkesbury Sandstone
(c) Alfindra Primaldhi, CC BY 2.0
Unidentified Nepenthes from Raja Ampat, New Guinea (possibly Nepenthes neoguineensis or Nepenthes papuana)
Emoji u1f33f.svg
Author/Creator: Google, Licence: Apache License 2.0
A colored Emoji from Noto project, released under Apache license

Unicode name: Herb

Annotations: Herb, Leaf, Nature, Plant