Epiphytes Scream Tropical
There is nothing that screams tropical more than epiphytes – “a plant that grows harmlessly upon another plant and derives its moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, and sometimes from debris accumulating around it.”
Perhaps the best rare plant locator and collector I have known referred to epiphytes as the “jewelry of a garden.” That is, with the trees being the framework, the colorful orchids that are perched on tree limbs are like dazzling earrings – that vining philodendron, like a necklace – and the many ferns, bromeliads, tillandsias, etc, are like bracelets, rings, and piercings in locations left only to your imagination. Like jewelry, they supply the accents and personality to a garden or landscape.
And you don’t necessarily have to be in a rain forest environment to enjoy these in your garden. Because even tropical locations experience periods of little or no rainfall, many of these plants and houseplants have adapted to tolerating periods of drying. Since they are the first plants to dry out when the rains stop, they may look fragile, but some are surprising drought tolerant. A quick blast with the hose, or put in a place that gets occasionally splashed with a sprinkler, is all they need. Even an inconspicuous drip line will allow your garden to have epiphytes in your trees and create a look reserved for the tropics. A splash of water twice a week is usually enough.
They are great for the gardener who has a smaller area to work with – or even those with no land and only a porch or patio – or even indoors. They can be mounted on boards for wall mounting, or on pieces of driftwood for an interesting look (inside or outside). But outside in the garden they allow for your creativity to go vertical and extend up into the branches or your trees.
Many plants that we think of as belonging in pots, or in the ground, live their natural lives in the trees. For some, the roots are just an anchoring mechanism, while they derive their water and nutrients from leaf litter and water they collect on their own – like the bromeliads. Some will begin their life off the ground and send long roots down the trunks of the trees and into the ground in order to have a source for some water during dry times. But they are all happy living off the ground, as long as they have periodic water, and some organic matter in the water or around the plant.
They can also be used effectively on the rocks surrounding a water feature. This not only creates a nice look, but they benefit greatly from the added humidity surrounding that little waterfall or pond. Tropiscape’s next Tip of the Month will deal with the ways you can mount epiphytes. Once you see how easy it is, and the look it creates, I dare you not to try some.