Houseplants: Epiphytes Growing on Branches

How should one go about preparing a branch or trunk for growing epiphytes? Depending on the available space it may be anything from a small twig anchored in a flat dish, to a plate of cork oak bark suspended in a terarium, or an actual piece of trunk. Always choose the material with care. Particularly suitable is a branch from an oak or locust tree, or an arborvitae or cypress trunk for they are the least prone to decay. For small-scale arrangements use cork oak bark or the roots and base of the stem of vine. If you come across a suitable and attractively shaped branch or a nicely branched trunk, shape it as desired by removing unwanted branches and attaching branches with wire if you want to fill in empty spaces. Then decide where to put the plants. You may have read that you should gouge out holes to hold the plants, and sometimes also grooves for drainage, but this is not necessary. If you want to put plants on the smooth part of the trunk hammer three small nails in the desired spot leaving the heads and a short piece projecting for attaching the plant. Then anchor the trunk in the dish in which it is to stand. Keep in mind that water will drip from the plants when they are watered and provide a dish that is large enough to catch all the run off; for safety’s sake add a few extra centimetres. Ideal for this purpose are laminated plastic or metal (zinc) trays masked on the outside with wood. The base of the trunk that will be in soil should be singed and may also be coated with a preservative agent. Take care to use one that will not have an adverse affect on the plants. Once the trunk or branch is firmly anchored (stuck on a metal spike, inserted in a metal collar or in a stand such as is used for Christmas trees) you can begin planting.

First of all get your materials ready: a soil mixture for epiphytes, plenty of sphagnum moss, a firm, thin, insulated wire or nylon line, and a waterproof adhesive. Tip the plants out of their pots, remove the soil from the roots and then prepare the ball. Make a ‘cushion’ of sphagnum moss, sprinkle with the epiphytic soil mixture (equal parts of peat, sand, 20 crushed pine bark, bits of charcoal, crushed polystyrene, and sometimes also roots of ferns such as osmunda or polypodium), insert the plant roots and cover them with a handful of the mixture. A sprinkling of bonemeal or chopped dry beech leaves may be added to the mixture to make it more nourishing. Then wind wire round the moss, compost and roots, forming them into a compact ball and attach it to the branch with wire or nylon line, which may be hidden by a piece of sphagnum. Tiny bromeliads of the genus Tillandsia (T. filifolia, T. ionantha) that grow without soil may simply be cemented to the branch with a drop of waterproof adhesive. Otherwise tillandsias (except for large species and ones with a well-developed root system such as Tillandsia complanata, T. cyanea, T. gigantea and T. prodigiosd) are just tied to the bark either with fine wire or a strip of old nylon stocking.

There are naturally many different kinds of epiphytic soil mixtures. The most simple one consists of crushed polystyrene and peat or crushed polystyrene with bits of cut plastic foam and crushed pine bark. Larger plants that require a greater amount of mixture for successful growth may be inserted in small perforated plastic pots filled with the mixture and covered by a layer of moss. These larger plants utilize the mixture only for rapid initial growth and later their roots catch hold of the bark or wood. There is no need to transplant epiphytes or replace the substrate. As for water, this should be supplied regularly (though not liberally) at least in the beginning, for the moss ball will not absorb water if at any stage it is allowed to dry out completely. Epiphytes also appreciate an occasional application of feed. Use an organic fertilizer diluted to one-tenth the concentration used for other plants.

If you add a few trailing plants such as philodendrons or syngoniums to the dish in which the trunk stands, you will have a true illusion of the tropics in your home. Other recommended plants (they must all tolerate permanently moist soil) include ferns, costus, aglaonema, anthurium, alocasia and marantas.

This website has perhaps devoted more space than is usual to the subject of growing epiphytes on a branch or trunk but if you select suitable species and have at least a slight instinct for creative arrangement, you will be well rewarded for your efforts. Furthermore, in the modern home epiphytes have proved extremely hardy besides being some of the loveliest of house plants.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Featured Articles | Comments Off on Houseplants: Epiphytes Growing on Branches


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