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Epiphyte Grand Prix

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Lately I've been bundling everything and attaching the bundles to my tree. It's more efficient to attach a bundle of plants to a tree than it is to attach the plants individually. Plus, you get more bang for your buck if you're watering by hand. Here's a photo of a bundle that I attached to my tree back in May 2011...

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Epiphyte Grand Prix by epiphyte78, on Flickr

Here's a list of plants that I included in the bundle...

  • Aeschynanthus hybrid - cutting
  • Anthurium scandens (xeric form) - rooted
  • Begonia NOID - cutting
  • Campyloneurum angustifolium - cutting
  • Cissus amazonica - cutting
  • Dermatobotrys saundersii - rooted
  • Disterigma pentandrum - cutting
  • Ficus diversifolia (Variegated) - rooted
  • Hoya engleriana - cutting
  • Impatiens keilii - cutting
  • Iresine herbstii - cutting
  • Macleania insignis - rooted
  • Medinilla sedifolia - cutting
  • Pleurothallis palliolata - keiki
  • Pleurothallis restrepioides - keiki
  • Schlumbergera NOID - cutting
  • Tillandsia albertiana
  • Tillandsia butzii

Why attach a bundle of plants to a tree? Why NOT attach a bundle of plants to a tree! If you're running out of horizontal space then think vertically.

Plant selection...don't be afraid to experiment. The more frequently you're willing to water the greater the quantity of plants that you can grow on your tree. The less frequently you water your tree the more storage/succulence a plant must have to grow successfully on your tree. Lately I've taken to fondling leaves to gauge stiffness/succulence. How quickly a plant wilts is also a pretty obvious indicator of how it might do on a tree.

Epiphytes are naturally a good choice to start with but they range from plants with absolutely no storage capacity to plants that can go weeks without water. Some examples of drought tolerant epiphytes include CAM Orchids and many atmospheric Tillandsias. Cliff dwellers and terrestrial succulents are also great candidates.

Habit...my favorite plants for trees are those that are pendent/hanging/cascading. Here's a very partial listing...

  • Asclepiadoideae - Ceropegia ampliata/distincta/sandesonii/woodii, Dischidia bengalensis, formosana, lanceolata, Hoya ?
  • Begonia boliviensis
  • Bromeliads - Neoregelia hoehneana, Tillandsia intermedia
  • Commelinaceae - Callisia fragrans/tehuantepecana, Tradescantia pendula/sillamontana
  • Ericaceae - Agapetes serpens, Macleania insignis
  • Ferns - Microgramma vacciniifolia, Polypodium subauriculatum
  • Fuchsias - Which are the best pendent species?
  • Gesneriads - Aeschynanthus speciosus, Codonanthe devosiana/carnosa/gracilis
  • Impatiens keilii
  • Medinilla sedifolia - one of the best, but perhaps only suitable for tropical climates
  • Orchids - Dockrillia teretifolia (my favorite orchid) /pugioniforme/bowmanii/striolata, Epidendrum parkinsonianum, Schoenorchis juncifolia
  • Pelargonium peltatum
  • Peperomias - Peperomia kimnachii/prostrata (there are others but I don't know their names)
  • Plectranthus prostratus
  • Succulents - Aloe arenicola/cremnophila/hardyi, Aptenia cordifolia variegata, Crassula marginalis/pellucida/sarmentosa variegata, Delosperma cooperi, Echeveria rosea, Graptopetalum, Kalanchoe manginii/uniflora, Lampranthus, Portulacaria afra variegata, Rhipsalis, Sarcostemma sp, Sedum craigii/lineare 'Variegatum'/morganianum/nussbaumerianum/sieboldii variegatum, Senecio jacobsenii/radicans/rowleyanus variegated

Watering...during summer I water my tree at night by turning on my drip system for around 20 minutes. The drip system consists of my hose which attaches to 1/2" polytubing which runs to the base of the tree. From there I have 1/4" brown polytubing which runs up the tree. During the very hottest days I'll try and water every night. Because of the lower evaporation rate, watering at night allows the plants as much time as they need to fully hydrate. By noon most of the plants on my tree are completely bone dry. For most epiphytic plants, frequency of moisture is more important than duration. During winter I water first thing in the morning perhaps once every 10 days.

Medium...as far as I can tell...all plants, except for the CAM orchids and epiphytic bromeliads/tillandsias, will require some additional medium. Well...at least initially...and at least here in Southern California. At first I tried attaching succulents to my tree without any medium. Some quickly put out roots while others did nothing. They received enough water to stay alive but the texture of the bark alone was not sufficient to encourage growth. Now I include some moss and the succulents have really responded.

There are different mediums that you can experiment with. New Zealand Sphagnum holds the most moisture and lasts the longest. That's the moss I used for the epiphyte bundle in the photo. The common green moss doesn't retain as much moisture and breaks down relatively fast. Once it breaks down though it becomes a suitable substrate for the common live green moss that we can find around our gardens. I'd really love to learn which species of live green moss is the best at growing epiphytically here in Southern California.

Lately I've been experimenting with the coconut fiber that they use for basket liners. On its own it doesn't seem to hold enough moisture for succulents. But if you add a thin layer of moss on top of the fiber then the succulents will really take off. I got the idea for the coconut fiber from observing how well all the plants did that I attached to my pygmy date palms. They really love the fiber...it seems to hold just the right amount of moisture. There are quite a few other fibrous palms...such as Trachycarpus fortunei. I'm sure fiber density varies by palm species so you'll have to experiment to see which plants respond the best to which palms.

Where to attach...horizontal branches are the best for hanging/cascading/pendent plants...plus they can retain more moisture than vertical branches. Vertical branches are the easiest to water by drip system. Spots higher up in the tree are good for plants that have larger flowers and prefer more dryness/light/air movement. Spots lower down on the tree are good for miniatures and plants that prefer shade/moisture. The sunny side of the tree is good for plants that require more light and can handle drying out more. Forks are ideal spots for moisture lovers but they are also ideal spots to step if you're going to climb your tree (in no way shape or form do I advocate climbing your tree). Make sure you don't attach orchids where your ladder leans up against the tree. That sounds obvious...but I've managed to do it a few times.

Attaching plants...I attach the plants to the tree using fishing line. The weight of the fishing line varies from 10 lbs to around 30 lbs...depending on how heavy a plant is. For orchids it's extremely important that they are as tightly secured to the tree as possible. Even the slightest wriggle room can damage newly emerging root tips...which will really set the orchid back. To make sure the orchids are as securely fastened as possible I use a slip knot method which allows me to cinch the fishing line tight without losing tension. After cinching the line as tightly as possible I loop it around several times and then create another slip knot (on the leftover line) to tie the line off without losing tension.

For plants that want a bit more moisture I've been creating super simple baskets/pots/pockets out of the coconut fiber I mentioned earlier. Basically I cut a rectangle shape, fold it in half, cup one side, punch a hole on both sides with a scissors and then tie both sides together using fishing line. Then I'll add some medium and plants/cuttings/seeds to the pocket. It's easy enough to attach the pocket to the tree with fishing line. If you water your tree by drip then you'll want to secure the bottom of the pocket as tightly as possible to the tree so that water will drip onto the bark rather than just falling off the tree.

When to attach...the best time to attach a plant is when it just starts to initiate growth. I've made the mistake of attaching plants like Hoyas and Dischidias way too early in the year. Without enough heat to initiate root growth they just slowly dehydrated. What I recommend doing is first attaching trickier plants to 10" sections of thin wood...like the kind used for cheap trellis. Before I attach the plants I cover the wood with a thin layer of moss. Afterwards I place the mounts in a terrarium (or plastic rectangular planters wrapped in clear plastic) in my garage under lights. Once the plants are well rooted to the wood then I'll attach the entire mount to me tree when it's warm enough. To ensure sufficient contact with the tree bark I'll add moss or a section of coconut fiber to the back of the wooden mount.

Tree suitability...generally the more texture the bark has the better. In terms of water...it should be pretty straightforward that you'll want to attach plants to trees that have similar water requirements. Canopy density is also another factor to consider as is whether a tree is deciduous. Plenty of plants that require shade during summer have no problem with direct sun during winter. But a deciduous tree will not offer as much frost protection during winter.

Pests...unlike hanging baskets...pests will have direct access to plants on your tree. I very highly recommend keeping the base and lower trunk of the tree as free of plants as possible. Here's a short time lapse video of a few of us helping a friend clear the base of his tree to get it ready for epiphytes. Keeping the base clear will reduce the "staging areas" that many pests ...slugs, snails, sow bugs, earwigs...will need to make nightly forays up into your tree. Ants are adept at climbing trees and are only too happy to carry mealybugs and scale to your plants. If you keep the base of your tree clear then it's easy enough to sprinkle a perimeter of deterrent around the trunk.

Protection/Fertilizer...generally I don't bother with fertilizer but this last summer I noticed a few aphids on my Rhipsalis and on the flowers of my Dockrillia teretifolia. So I sprinkled some granules of Bayer Rose Protect and Feed on the forks of my tree. It immediately destroyed the aphids. In terms of feeding...many of the orchids that had been producing one new growth per season vigorously produced two new growths. Unfortunately, somehow way too many granules fell onto my Vriesea espinosae and it was burnt beyond repair. So if I use the granules in the future I'll probably attach some coconut fiber pockets to my tree specifically for the Bayer granules. Of course, you wouldn't want to use any systemic pesticides on fruit trees.

Conclusion...when we see a yard that's completely covered in lawn it's easy enough to imagine the possibilities for that space. But when you see a tree...can you imagine all the possibilities for that vertical space? Plants are all about the conquest of space...so if you're running out of horizontal space then I highly encourage you to think vertically.

Additional resources...

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I would think the Ficus would take over ? No ? Very interesting - I ought to try it in my plant house on my Norfolk Island Pine and Dracaena!

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santoury, Ficus deltoidea is from Malaysia...so not sure how well it will be able to handle our winters which are a lot colder by comparison. From what I've heard it probably can't be grown outdoors here in Southern California so we'll see how long it survives.

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Posted (edited)

Here was the bundle in 2013...

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Dermatobotrys saundersii and Anthurium scandens Growing Epiphytically by Epiphyte, on Flickr

The Dermatobotrys and Anthurium were the only two survivors/winners from the original bundle.  Then maybe a year, or two, ago... because of the drought, I reduced watering to twice a week during summer.  The Dermatobotrys crashed and burned.  But the Anthurium didn't even slow down.  It's the winner!!!  

More exciting than Nascar?

 

Edited by epiphyte
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For those of us who have space limitations vertical gardening like yours is both economical and fun. When friends visit it makes them look at the garden from top to bottom.

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Gonzer, it would be great if everybody would take advantage of the copious amount of space available on their trees.  From my perspective, an empty tree is the equivalent of a lawn.  In the sense that the space could harbor a much greater variety of plants, and associated animals, which would make it that much more interesting.  

The other night I spotted this alligator lizard patrolling a Vanda for slugs...

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Epiphytic Alligator Lizard by Epiphyte, on Flickr

More epiphytes! More niches! More diversity!  

Here's a pic that I took yesterday of the winner of the Epiphyte Grand Prix...

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Anthurium scandens Growing Epiphytically by Epiphyte, on Flickr

Also in the pic is an Echeveria gibbiflora starting to spike.  It doesn't come even close to beating scandens in terms of performance.  I'd really like to try and find/create an Echeveria that can beat scandens.  I shared some relevant thoughts here and here.  

Edited by epiphyte
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