Do Plants Need Soil to Grow?

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I try to include many different topics in my blog, not only issues that relate to interior plantscaping. After looking back on my many blogs, I noticed that there us a very important type of growing plants that I have never addressed: hydroponics. Sharon Falsetto wrote a great article to introduce my readers to hydroponics. There are some types of plants which grow without the need for soil; these types of plants are known as hydroponic plants and air plants. I hope you find it informative and that sparks your interest.

Plants have evolved over millions of years into the land plants which are common into today’s world. Although most plants need soil to survive, and from which to obtain nutrients to grow, some plants have evolved ecologically to rely on other sources for nutrients. In addition, many plants can be grown using hydroponic techniques which do not require soil to grow.

How Air Plants Grow

Epiphytes are a group of plants which are commonly known as air plants; epiphytes do not grow in soil and actually grow on another plant or object. An epiphyte obtains its nutrients for survival from the air and the rain; epiphytes are commonly found in the tropical countries of the world, as they need warmth and moisture to survive.

Some epiphytes are also aquatic, attaching themselves to a plant host which grows in the water, such as sea weed. Epiphytes may damage the plant host but they rely on the plant host solely for support and not for nutrients. Epiphytes usually grow high up the canopies of rain forests, to obtain maximum moisture, but some are found close to the ground such as mosses, ferns and some orchid species.

Epiphyte Species

There are many species of air plants; these include:

  • bromeliads
  • ferns
  • mosses
  • orchids
  • rhododendrons
  • cacti
  • algae
  • lichens
  • seaweed.

The History of Hydroponic Techniques for Plants

Hydroponic plants are not a new concept; it is said that plants found in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon used hydroponic techniques. The Aztecs also used to grow hydroponic plants on floating rafts, made of reed and rushes, in an effort to maintain food crops whilst fleeing from their enemies.

This scenario was simulated once again in the 1930’s when Doctor W.E. Gericke, of the University of California, grew tomatoes on floating rafts to demonstrate the ability to grow plants without soil. In 1699, British scientist, John Woodward, had concluded that plants needed soil primarily for support, not nutrients.

How Hydroponic Plants Grow

Hydroponic plants are grown in an inert medium such as gravel, sand, coconut fiber or perlite; the plant receives the nutrients it needs from a water and fertilizer mixture which is controlled and pH balanced. The mixture is delivered direct to the plant’s roots, giving the plant more energy to produce flowers and fruits. Today, there are many sophisticated systems of growing hydroponic plants but all work on the same principle of
growing a plant without soil.

Hydroponics and Epiphytes

Although most plants grow in soil, some species of plants are capable of obtaining nutrients from the air to survive. In addition, many plant species can be grown using hydroponic techniques, without relying on soil for their nutrients. A plant does not necessarily need soil to grow; however, in general, a plant does need sunlight and water to perform the process of photosynthesis.

If you have any question on plants for your office or home, contact Growing Expectations to set up a free interior plantscaping consultation at info@interiorofficeplants.com.


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