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Epiphytes consistently grow on the stems or trunks of other plants. They may be herbaceous or shrubby. True epiphytes are attached to their host by roots.

Although the lithophytic habit (plants growing on bare rock surfaces) is ecologically analagous to the epiphytic habit, in this key lithophytes are treated as forbs or shrubs.

Grass or sedge

Grasses (family Poaceae), sedges (family Cyperaceae) and rushes (family Juncaceae) have narrow, grass-like leaves usually arising from a crown or from wiry stems.

Note that plants which may be mistaken for grasses and sedges because of their long linear leaves, especially in their juvenile or sterile state, have also been coded for this feature.

Herb (plants < 1 m tall)

A herb is defined as single or multi-stemmed, herbaceous or woody plant less than 1 m tall which flowers and fruits within that size range. 

Grasses and sedges are coded separately unless they are distinctly non grass-like in appearance in which case they have also been coded as herbs.

Herbs should be growing within the rain forest, or on the edge.

Palm, pandan or cycad

Palms (family Arecaceae) are tree- or shrub-sized plants or vines. The may be single or multi-stemmed and have a range of leaf structures.

Pandans (family Pandanaceae) are tree- or shrub-sized plants with long sword-like leaves which are usually edged with spines.

Cycads (family Cycadaceae and Zamiaceae) are sometimes considered to be palm-like in habit so are included here.

Shrub (plants 1-6 m tall)

A shrub is defined as a single or multi-stemmed, woody or herbaceous plant more than 1 m but less than 6 m tall, which flowers and fruits within that size range.

Shrubs should be growing within the rain forest, or on the edge.

Tree (usually single stem, > 6 m tall)

A tree is generally defined as a single-stemmed woody plant, more than 6 m tall, with a stem encased in living bark. Note that palms, pandans and bananas are included as trees (or shrubs) in this key although they do not have a living bark layer, and therefore cannot be coded for bark characters.


A vine is defined as a single- or multi-stemmed plant usually more than 1 m long or high which relies on other objects (often other plants) to support it as its own stem lacks the rigidity to hold it in an upright position.