Epiphytes in the Vivarium
Text by Ken Uy

Orchids on branches


     The best epiphytes for planting on bare branches are those that are adapted to regular cycles of moisture and dryness, much like what they would get in their natural habitat where they get rained on, then their exposed location on the branches allows them to dry out a bit.  Many of these epiphytes rely on their roots more for anchoring themselves to the branches, rather than for collecting nutrients. 

     When growing epiphytes on a branch, it is better to first determine where the branch's permanent position will be in the vivarium, then take into consideration the amount of space the plants you will be attaching will have in relation to the vivarium's top and walls.  Don't forget that plants will grow if you do everything right, and that if they bloom the flower stalks will require additional height. 

     If the branch is rather large and difficult to position, put it in place before you begin planting because a large branch with plants attached to it will be even more difficult to handle.  It might be a good idea though to first drill some holes and thread plastic covered wire through them in the places where plants will eventually be attached, to make things a bit easier. 

     Some epiphytes will like at least a bit of moisture around their roots, so before tying them into place wrap some moist green moss around their roots. This will also act as a pad to keep the wires from damaging the plants. Omit the moss for plants that prefer dryer conditions, but be extra careful when tying them in place. Position the plants, then wire them firmly into place. It is important that the plants are firmly attached so they can root onto the branch properly. After they attach themselves, the wires can be removed.  Keep the plants well watered, but don't forget to allow them a brief drying out period in between. When you do water, make sure everything, including the entire branch, is well soaked so that the roots will be encouraged to grow onto the wood. 

     If you have a particularly interesting piece of wood, don't get carried away and cover the entire surface with plants.  Leave some bare wood and show off the branch like a piece of sculpture. Limit the plants to groupings at certain points, such as the base and the crooks of branches.  Consider the plants’ growth habits; for example, if a plant tends to trail then put it on a higher position so that its branches can hang down naturally.  If the plant gets rather large, then don't put it where it will eventually shade plants under it to the point where the underplantings will suffer. 

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 Copyright 1999 by Kenneth K. Uy. All rights reserved.