Companion planting is when plants group together or are grouped together because they benefit when planted close to each other. For instance, it is believed that Native Americans planted corn, bean, and squash (also known as the “Three Sisters”) together because each crop helped the other in a beneifical way. Specifically, the corn stalks provide structural support for the climbing beans, the beans do not take away much of the nutrients the corn needs in order to grow, and the squash provides ground cover so that the weed grow to compete with the corn and beans.
In natural environments, plants may grow next to each other – or even on each other – because of benefits that can be obtained. For example, plants called epiphytes can grow on various parts of trees; they are often found on the main trunk or branches, but some may even grow on individual leaves, obtaining nutrients through the host. Epiphytes include orchids, lichens, mosses and bromeliads, which can survive without ever rooting in the ground. When I visited the cloud forest and rainforest in Ecuador, I was amazed by the incredible variety and abundance of plants growing upon a single tree.
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