Plants that grow without soil

'Coelogyne cristata' Photo by Gregor Richardson.
'Coelogyne cristata' Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Growing plants such as ferns, orchids and bromeliads epiphytically is fun and opens up a whole new way of displaying them, rather than just in pots.

Not all ferns, orchids and bromeliads grow epiphytically so it does pay to do your research to find out what does grow well as an epiphyte in the wild. [Editor's note: An epiphyte is a plant that grows on another plant, depending on it for support but not food.]

Once you have selected your epiphyte and a suitable site, merely fasten the epiphytic plant with fishing line or plastic-coated wire firmly (but not so tight you damage the plant) around the host plant several times so the epiphyte is nice and stable and the roots are held firmly.

You can use a handful of wet sphagnum moss in between the plant and the host to help new roots establish without drying out and to encourage them to grow towards their support.

Once the epiphyte is wired on, it needs to be misted daily for a few months until the roots have attached firmly. Also mist it in warm weather.

Because the plant does not grow in moist soil, as terrestrial plants do, they require a moist atmosphere to flourish.

Select your plant carefully to match the environmental conditions you can provide, such as heat, light and humidity.

Most orchids and bromeliads will need, at the very least, the protection of a greenhouse or conservatory.

Epiphytes can be attached directly to trunks of living trees or to dead branches, driftwood, slabs of tree fern or cork bark.

It is best if you can time the attaching with when the epiphyte is putting on new root growth as this will help the plant attach itself and establish itself faster.

- Stephen Bishop is curator of the winter garden glasshouse at Dunedin Botanic Garden.

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