Mounting Orchids on Cork Bark

The photographs above show some of the orchid plants we grow mounted on cork bark. With many smaller species this allows us to enjoy the full beauty of the form of the species as well as being able to enjoy plants growing as epiphytes as they do in their habitats.

A second reason for growing species on mounts is the obvious observation that if an orchid has evolved to grow on a tree - why not grow it on a tree.

So what wood could you use? Seeing orchids in the wild there are plenty of trees that have very few epiphytes and orchids either because the tree sheds its bark (and so sheds any epiphytes) or it has a chemical defence.  So any mount used must be stable and not heavy in chemicals such as tannins (like oak). We have successfully used branches from Elder, Gorse and Rose in the past but all these materials rotted well before their orchids were fully developed.  Very few orchid make a home on rotten wood (Cataseatums excepted) and so the only thing we have found that lasts as long as a living branch is cork bark.

If we look at orchids growing in the wild as epiphytes there are a number of things to make us think about our culture methods.

Many orchids grow on bare bark, like Vanda ampulacea (pink flowers) photographes here in Sikkim, India. Others like Pleurothallis grobyi in Brazil often grow on mossy branches.

We have experimented with bark and moss and now always mount on bare bark. If we were to pick away at the pleurothallis grobyi we would find that its roots are very much attached to the bark of the tree not the moss and it is likely that the moss developed after the orchid.

The sooner your orchid can attach its roots to your mount the better it will grow.

How we mount orchids.

These photographs show us mounting Isabelia pulchella. 

First we divide the plant into suitable small sections (three bulbs is perfect), we find it better to get small plants established that can grow into specimens on their mount.

Next we prepare the cork bark by drilling three holes. One at the top for the wire hook and label. Two near the middle to hold the plant.

We then tie on the plant with a single loop of thin wire, with the wire across the rhizome between bulbs or growths if possible. We find the key is to hold the plant very firmly so that it can't wobble (wobbling will damage and kill new root tips)

Then hand plants up and water well. 

Remember to have any new growth facing the mount, not away from it, so that new roots will quickly contact the cork and grow onto it.

Other materials such as plastic mounts are available but we have never tried them (we love the look of cork and it is great to support the ancient cork industry of Portugal and so help preserve the amazing cork forest habitat). We did try terracotta but the trial failed as the absorbent nature of terracotta led to a salt build up on its surface (the same reason we don't use terracotta pots)