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A jar of sludge

October 13, 2010

Most orchids are epiphytic, meaning they grow above ground symbiotically with trees.  Orchids participate in a commensal symbiosis with trees, implying that only one party, the orchid, receives benefits which include physical support and minor nutrient enrichment from bark, while the other party, being the tree, remains unaffected.  Orchids are not parasitic, while they absorb nutrients from the decomposition of dead bark cells, they do not inflict harms upon the living tree by stealing nutrient stores. The roots of the orchid do not penetrate the bark, they branch out superficially.

Yesterday, Momo and I attached several young Virgin Orchids (Dendrobium parthenium) to a longan tree here at Dokmai Garden in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  The process was simple and rewarding. In a few years, depending on the growth rate of these little guys, this tree will be covered with cascading waterfalls of white orchid blossoms.

Eric handed us a small clear jar with some sludge at the bottom, and what appeared to be some shoots of grass sprouting forth.  I inquired as to what significance this jar of grass possessed.  He told us the mess inside was a cluster of baby orchids that had been festering in this jar for nearly a year.  A friend, Folbert Bronsema, had started them as seeds in an agar base supplemented with nutrients and left them to germinate.  It was time to let them out.

Starting orchids on trees is a straightforward process.  All it entails is some string and a small amount of plant knowledge and artistic consideration.  In this case, we know the species in native to Borneo and therefore needs a position where we can easily sprinkle water. The light in this tree is about the same as in the Dokmai Garden nursery, where the mother virgin orchid has produced blossom for many weeks now. You simply pick a preferential spot on your tree of choice and tie the little guy on with a piece of twine.   An important note: Don’t use wire to fasten the orchid to the branch as the wire may cause damage to the tree if left unattended.  The growing branch may become strangulated by the unforgiving metal thread.  It is best to use a string consisting of natural fibers, i.e. hemp works great.  If you forget to adjust it as the branch expands, it will break.  After the youngsters are fixed, they should receive minimal attention with a spray bottle for a few ensuing days just to make sure they don’t suffer too much stress from the change in environment.

Momo and Automne, Colorado, Dokmai Garden ‘Tropical Garden School‘ students.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. mami motom permalink
    October 14, 2010 2:08 AM

    mmmm 龍眼! how deliciously exciting to live by a longan tree…will it be fruiting soon? please say hi to the mama tree for me. and airplanting white butterfly orchid babies to it sounds like a dream to me. please bless the lil babies for me too! i would absolutely love to work there. i love you passionately and dream of working alongside you.

    p.s. i believe a lil green box will find its way to the american gardeners soon.

    • October 18, 2010 10:00 AM

      Dear Mami,

      It was a delight to have Momo and Automne here. The longan will make new fruits next July. It is possible to force off-season fruiting by using fertilizers and irrigation, but our trees follow the natural cycle.

  2. mami permalink
    October 19, 2010 9:33 AM

    dear eric-

    i see that the motom has moved on… they were so excited and grateful to be at dokmai. i gather that it was just the ideal place for them to lighten their loads of american cultures and step into the pace and nature of thai-ness. i am so excited for them to be learning and just absorbing so much from this experience. thank you so much for all you have shared and given to them. dokmai garden and its family will be in their heart forever.


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