Your favorite nursery might have tropical plants mounted on bark slabs or other materials. It's not just for show. Some orchids are epiphytic plants that live on a host tree, which raises them above nibbling predators and towards pollinating insects. Consider freeing your orchid from the confines of its pot, and grow it on a mount as it would in its tropical habitat.
Which Orchids Grow on Mounts?
When choosing an orchid to grow on a mount, take a cue from nature. Orchids that grow in the nooks of trees in their natural habitat are more likely to thrive on a mount in your home. The miniature cattleya and phalaenopsis orchids are easy for beginning orchid growers and are suitable for growing on a mount. Brassavola orchids also do well on mounts, although they will outgrow small mounts quickly.
Some orchids are challenging, if not impossible to grow on mounts. You should not grow large orchids on mounts unless the mount is a permanent outdoor or greenhouse structure, or perhaps even a tree. Cymbidiums are an example of an orchid likely to outgrow its mount quickly. Orchids that don’t tolerate dry roots, such as the ludisia or the oncidium orchid, would be difficult to keep moist enough on a mount. Sarcochilus orchids and phragmipedium orchids also demand consistent moisture that is hard to achieve with mount culture.
Choosing Material for an Orchid Mount
When choosing a mount, consider appearance, functionality, and durability. You don’t need to chop down a tree branch to create an orchid mount; many commercial choices are available through orchid supply companies such as:
- Coco husk fiber plaques which hold sufficient moisture and are an attractive natural bronze color
- Cork bark slabs which have many crevices to encourage orchid roots to explore and take hold
- Cypress bark slabs are ideal for mounts that are kept primarily outdoors, as the wood resists decay in humid environments
- Driftwood offers unusual shapes that add character to the mount but does little to enhance humidity
- Tree fern plaques are soft, shaggy, and moisture retentive, yet durable.
- Tree fern totems can be used to mount multiple small orchid specimens to achieve a miniature tree trunk look.
How to Mount an Orchid
Follow this process to successfully mount an orchid:
- Prepare the mount; secure string or wire to the mount with enough length to create a loop on which to hang it.
- Soak the mount in warm water for a few hours.
- Soak the orchid in water for 20 minutes to make its roots pliable.
- Carefully remove all potting media from the orchid’s roots.
- Snip off and discard any dead roots.
- Pack moist sphagnum moss around the orchid’s roots. This reduces transplant shock while the orchid gets established on the mount.
- Attach the moss-wrapped root ball to the mount using floral wire, fishing line, U-shaped metal clips, twist ties, or another non-biodegradable string. It’s important that the string remains intact while the roots secure themselves on the mount.
Caring for a Mounted Orchid
Caring for a mounted orchid isn’t much different than caring for a potted orchid. On one hand, you don't have to worry about giving it too much moisture, and your orchid will never experience wet feet. On the other hand, you need to be more vigilant than ever about providing a humid environment for your orchid. Water the plant at least three times a week, submerging the entire mount if possible to saturate it, increasing ambient humidity through evaporation.
Over time, you will notice the sphagnum moss you applied to the roots will drop off. In its place, new orchid roots will be exploring their mount, developing the characteristic flattened shape that helps the plant live out its epiphytic life in nature.