We are always looking for ways to improve our orchid culture and create optimal growing conditions for our plants. Over the years, we have realized that growers sometimes attempt to simulate aspects of the natural environment while neglecting more subtle details — which make a significant difference in the long span of an orchid’s life.
Mounting orchids are one of these particular cultural areas that seems to fall prey to generalized ideas about epiphytes — that is, what growing on a tree looks like. In particular, it is popularly assumed that “growing on a tree” means attaching to a vertical surface. And, therefore, it is ideal to hang an orchid mount vertically: the proverbial orchid on a stick or slab of cork.
In reality, however, epiphytic growth occurs at all angles from vertical to horizontal. If you look closely, when you see native habitat photographs of many species, larger plants are often in crooks of trees or on thick, nearly horizontal branches.
There are probably several good reason for this. First, a horizontal surface will collect more falling debris, and hence nutrients, than a vertical surface. Likewise, water will be retained longer in the nooks and crevices of horizontal bark, providing a favorable environment for new roots to establish.
Finally, a horizontal “platform” can provide an orchid more room to expand, spreading its new canes or rhizomes in many directions. More even lighting over the entire growing surface can also encourage more sustained growth. This is particularly notable for species with rhizomes that have a linear growth habit.
With these observations, we have shifted more and more to growing orchids in baskets and on horizontal mounts. Since we are not commercial growers, we are more interested in growing specimen plants than generating new divisions. This is a key distinction, since many people emulate successful commercial orchid growers, not necessarily realizing that most of their plants are intended for sale ASAP. The economies of time, space, and rapid turnover produce a different way of thinking about orchid culture than the goals of long-term plant growth.
In this regard, it is very different to consider how an orchid will grow on a mount for 5-10 years rather than 1-2 years until sale. Vertical mounts are space efficient and attractive to display.
This is a long prelude to my conclusion that while vertical mounts do work well for some species, they are limiting for others. In this article, I would like to share examples of “mini orchid logs” that we created for two species. Both tend to have “creeping” growth patterns and have taken to growing on their logs quite well this growing season.
We call these mounts “mini orchid logs” since the cork tubes used are 6-8″ (15-20cm) in length. While other “orchid logs” that I have seen are more veritably “log-sized” (3-15ft, 1-5m), these are the same concept but suited to smaller orchid species.
Our first mini orchid log was envisioned for an Epidendrum maxthompsonianum, an intermediate species from Peru. The flowers and vegetative habit are similar to the better known Epidendrum porpax (peperomia), but a smaller growing orchid overall. We have several Epidendrum porpax (peperomia) and observed how they have quickly expanded beyond their vertical mounts, with stems and roots seeking the next attachment point. In the future, we will take some trimmings from these vertical mounts and establish them on a horizontal slab or log.
Since a picture is worth much more than words …
We were so pleased with this result — the Epidendrum maxthompsonianum looked quite natural and it was straightforward to mount the small division — that we decided upon a second mini-log experiment with a Dendrobium loddigesii.
We have had several cultivars of Dendrobium loddigesii, greatly ranging in vegetative size. Our original Dendrobium loddigesii log was over 18″(0.5m) long and about half as wide. The canes were quite long, with lush leaves about 2″(2.5cm) long. This clone is tiny by comparison; the leaves are little more than 0.5″(1.2cm) long and quite narrow.
This Dendrobium loddigesii was originally mounted on a vertical slab, but became very leggy and unattractive, with clumps of keiki on bare stems. Last year, we decided to “dismantle” that mount, removing the keiki and cutting up the canes. We placed these pieces in an empty 5″ (13cm) plastic pot so they would establish some roots before mounting. I misted the pot a couple times a week; in the humid cool room, it needed little additional moisture and no media.
(Previously, we had purchased some “keiki in a cup” for a Dendrobium Nagasaki, started in a similar way, and it was very successful. We now have a bountiful 8″ (20cm) basket three years later.)
The Dendrobium loddigesii “keiki in a cup” were ready to mount at an opportune time, so we created the second log below.
We have also created “logs” by hanging cork pieces or slabs horizontally using a standard metal basket hanger attached in three places. For one thick slab of cypress bark, we added picture hanging hooks at the ends to attach the wire. In other cases, we just drilled through the cork and inserted the wire through it.
Horizontal mounts have worked exceptionally well for Dendrobium kingianum. Our horizontal slabs have far outgrown the vertical mounts. Other Australian Dendrobium have also done very well mounted horizontally, particularly Dendrobium (Dockrillia) wasselli and Dendrobium prenticei.
Going forward, we plan to create more horizontal orchid logs and slabs. We currently have a flask of Epidendrum neolemannia establishing roots in preparation for mounting.
In general, I have found that the best growers (for us) on vertical mounts are pendulous Dendrobium species and prhybrids. Time will tell, however, because we have observed many other Dendrobium run out of mount space and stop adding new growths. The plants subsequently fade or are remounted (with varying success). Now, I think of a horizontal (or basket) first, and vertical mounts only if particularly suitable.
I hope that our perspective on horizontal orchid mounts can be helpful to re-consider and re-imagine some of your orchid growing. Sometimes a new orientation literally brings new life to a stagnant or struggling plant. As you can see, orchid “logs” do not have to be large to be successful and beautiful.