of a tropical garden can be greatly enhanced through the use of epiphytes.
These nonparasitic tree-dwelling species are members of many different
plant families and can be found flourishing under most climatic situations.
From wet rain
forests to dry deciduous forests, orchids, bromeliads, and ferns are well
represented in the canopies and on the trunks of tropical trees. Many
other plant families also have epiphytic members. The Gesneriaceae (African
Violet family), Cycadaceae (Cycads), Rubiaceae (including many species
of ant plants), Cactaceae (Christmas cactus) and the Araceae (Philodendron
family) are some of the more uncommon species found growing in trees.
epiphytic fern Platycerium superbum planted onto a Veitchia sp.
palm at Jungle Island, Miami, Florida.
often thought to be parasites of their "host" tree. Mistletoes are the
only epiphytes that are fully documented as true parasites (having roots
that penetrate the tree's vascular tissue in order to receive nutrients).
However, Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana) in central Florida that have heavy
growth of Spanish Moss, and trees in the tropics that support large populations
of orchids have been known to occasionally decline in health (although
this is uncommon and needs further study and documentation). Planting
epiphytes on the branches of trees and on the trunks of palms will not
cause problems on the trees in your garden, if attached properly.
of trees and palms seem to be better hosts than others. Trees with an
open canopy that allow light to penetrate through are usually the best
for planting epiphytes. Calabash (Crescentia sp.), Live Oak, and Citrus
sp., are excellent hosts. Staghorn ferns (Platycerium sp.), for example,
grow very well on the trunks of palms. Although some palms, like Royal
palm (Roystonea sp.), with a large leaf sheath (the basal part of the
leaf that wraps around the trunk of the palm) will sometimes "clean off"
epiphytes when the leaf falls.
Staghorns (Platycerium coronarium) and Bird's
Nest ferns (Asplenium sp.) growing naturally on a tree in Singapore
(Click to view larger)
can be done many ways. The best method for attachment is one that does
not utilize nails or staples that pierce the trunk of the host tree. Palms,
for example, have no cambium layer. They will never heal if the trunk
is punctured and will always be susceptible to invasion by fungi or insects.
Other trees will eventually heal over (they have a cambium layer), but
staples should not be the first choice, because there is still a chance
for insect or disease invasion while the trunk is healing. String or thin
wire can be utilized to fasten an epiphyte but the best results are achieved
by attatching the plant with Zip-ties. What ever is used, it must remain
until the plant becomes established. This may appear unsightly due to
the amount of string or wire needed to secure the plant, but if the epiphyte
is completely immobile, roots will establish easily. If rain or wind can
shake the plant, roots will have difficulty becoming established and the
epiphyte may not survive. Cable staples can be used if necessary, but
great care must be taken not to damage the stem of the epiphyte when hammered
onto the trunk. The use of glue will only secure the tiniest of plants
and, if the bark below the glue comes off, the epiphyte will not survive.
Once the plant is naturally secured, remove the method of attatchment.
A Rabbit's Foot (Davallia sp.) fern attatched
to a tree using Zip-ties and Coconut palm fiber.
most of their nutrients from the atmosphere. Depending on the species,
their leaves and roots have specialized cells which absorb nutrients and
moisture. The roots of epiphytes will also benefit from decomposed matter.
To promote rapid growth, frequent watering and fertilizing should occur.
Fertilizing should be done with a foliar spray, usually at half strength
and watering should take into account the native habitat of the epiphyte
(is it from a cloud forest with a daily immersion of fog or from a deciduous
forest with a pronounced dry season?). Some bromeliads store water in
their cups so their watering should be less frequent. Bird's nest Anthuriums
and Aspleniums will accumulate leaves and other debris in the center of
the plant and this can cause rotting due to excess moisture. Orchids with
pseudobulbs store water and will not need to be watered as often as orchids
without pseudobulbs. Knowledge of the epiphytes native habitat and an
attempt to duplicate those conditions will usually ensure the success
of their cultivation.