The little plants which live on leaves are called epiphylls.
`Epi' means 'upon and 'phyll' means `leaf'.
Epiphyte is the more familiar name used for a number of ferns, orchids and so on.
It means `upon-plants'.
Epiphylls include a variety of non-flowering plants including:
Lichens (the main group), mosses, leafy liverworts and algae.
Twenty species, or more, may be found on a single leaf.
They flourish best where light levels are low, on leaves in the understorey.
Almost every understorey leaf supports at least a few of these plants.
Among them lives an entire microscopic fauna population of:
Mites, worms and insect larvae as well as bacteria and a number of fungi species.
The variety of microscopic epiphylls make a very valuable contribution to this.
The bacteria which live on leaves play an important part in the rainforest ecosystem by:
Using nitrogen from the atmosphere and recycling nutrients.
Epiphylls can be quite a burden for a plant.
A heavy population of them on a leaf significantly reduces its ability to photosynthesise.
To discourage this many rainforest leaves are shiny and their shape.
They are designed to encourage water to run off quickly.
This is to reduce the ability of epiphylls colonising them.
Loss of habitat has left them vulnerable.
Recent research suggests that some may function as good indicators of forest stress.
'Epiphylls are an important part of the whole rainforest ecosystem.'