Growing Epiphytes Indoors

Another interesting means of room decoration using plants is growing epiphytes on a branch, stump or piece of tree bark. Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants without doing the host any harm. They include many orchids and bromeliads, as well as some ferns and aroids. Growing epiphytes in this way requires quite a lot of space if you are going to use a branch or stump. The plants need a suitable environment, artificial lighting in practically all instances and, last but not least, a certain instinct and skill, so they are not ideal for the beginner.

The best kind of branch or small stump for growing epiphytes is one with durable wood that is not prone to early decay, especially in a damp environment. The woods of the oak, locust tree, arbor vitae and cypress are all particularly suitable. Select an attractively shaped branch or piece of wood. The colour is also important; an interesting or unusual shade can look very effective. The reddish wood of the small trunks found on moors is not only extremely attractive, but also durable, for all the soft parts have long since rotted away. You can also use roots or pieces of bark for growing some epiphytes. You can hang the branch on a wall. In this case, make sure eyes are screwed in firmly and positioned to correspond to hooks fixed to the branch.

If you want a stump to ‘be growing’ from a dish, then anchor it firmly in the substrate Fig. 8. Hanging wooden basket and weight it down with stones. The firmest anchorage is provided by pouring in a little concrete. Keep in mind that water will drip from the plants when they are watered or misted. It is sensible, therefore, to place the dish containing the stump inside another, larger dish or tray to catch all the run off. Prepare a light compost, ideally a mixture of peat, crushed pine bark, polystyrene and fern roots, and put this mixture inside a ‘cushion’ of sphagnum or other moss, such as Leucobryum, together with the roots of the epiphyte. Then squash the cushion into a compact ball. Wind rustproof wire or nylon line around it and attach it to the branch. A good place for putting plants is in the fork of a branch or in a hole gouged out in advance. Sometimes bits of oak bark can be fixed to the branch to form ‘pockets’, where plants can be easily held in place. Maintaining a high level of atmospheric moisture is most important in growing epiphytic plants. This can be achieved by misting with a sprayer, using a commercial humidifier, or by keeping the moss well watered to ensure plenty of evaporation.

A wide variety of suitable plants is available. The funnel-like rosettes of Aechmea, Vriesea and Guzmania are particularly attractive, especially if orchids are grown in between them. Rosettes of narrow, silvery-grey or green leaves are a typical feature of Tillandsias. These usually have no roots and grow without any soil; they may simply be tied or cemented to the branch (the cement, however, must be of a kind that is not water soluble). Special fixatives for air plants are available. Various species of Anthu-riums can also be grown on an epiphytic stump. The most suitable ferns are Asplenium nidus, Polypodium vulgare and a number of species of Platycerium. The bizarre leaves of Platycerium species create a particularly exotic effect. Popular succulents used for such decoration are Rhipsalidopsis and Ceropegia. If you add a few trailing plants to cover the stump, you will create a truly splendid illusion of the tropics in your home. Plants recommended for this include Ficus pumila, F. sagittata, Epipremnum and Syn-gonium. Where it is possible to provide a higher temperature, Cissus discolor is an exceptionally beautiful specimen. The plants need to be watered regularly. Do not let the moss ball dry out completely or it will absorb water very poorly.

Where space is very limited, epiphytes can be grown in wooden baskets or perforated pots that can be hung from the ceiling, in alcoves or from a shelf. Commonly grown in this way are Platycerium species and some types of orchids.

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