Greg Alikas

photographer and orchid grower.
Responsible by the sites The Orchid Photo Page and The O Zone (on-line magazine about orchids)

Delfina & Sergio,

This is a great issue of Orchid News and you are certainly providing a service to the global orchid community by bringing the crisis of the tree fern's threatened survival to the forefront.
In some ways it is a problem for orchid growers and in some ways it is not.
If a whole collection or commercial enterprise is geared to using tree fern as a potting media then having to adjust cultural practices to a new material is a problem.
However, as you are aware, epiphytic orchids will grow in or on almost anything that is not objectionable to them, the potting material is merely a support. I have seen orchids grown in glass marbles in styrofoam pots, Vandas grown in old beef bones, Oncidiums grown on slabs of styrofoam, Encyclias grown on cow skulls, one of the healthiest C. aclandiae I ever saw was growing on the outside of a clay pot.
I think the loss of tree fern as a potting material is more of a loss to commercial growers with a profit motive and thousands of plants than individuals with a few hundred orchids who can, and usually do, experiment with other potting materials.
In the US, tree fern has been expensive and occasionally hard to find for several years. Many growers have already found other media. As is mentioned at your forum, many growers here use fir bark which is relatively inexpensive and readily available.
Indeed, along with sphagnum moss, it is probably the most frequently used material for growing orchids, especially for growers in temperate areas. Here in South Florida it deteriorates far too rapidly for our use.
A few years ago we began moving all our orchids out of tree fern and into lava rock, this was the best thing we ever did. Our move to lava rock was a cultural move, not a response to dwindling tree fern supplies. We grow our mixed collection of 700 plants in an open shade house in South Florida where they are subjected to extended rainy spells and warm temperatures.
Although tree fern had been a reliable media for us for decades, the inorganic material is proving to be superior. I should add here that we use sphagnum for Phals and some species grown in baskets and mounts for species that need them.

The advantages of inorganic media are: There are only one or two possible drawbacks:
photo by Greg Alikas
Lava Rock (left) and Aliflor (right)
There are several of these inorganic aggregates; Solite, Aliflor and Lava Rock all share similar properties which differ from expanded clay in having tiny pits in the surface to retain moisture. As I mentioned earlier, orchids can be grown in almost any simpatico material providing that cultural practices are adjusted accordingly.

In closing let me offer my Rule #1:
Before moving your whole orchid collection into a new potting medium experiment with a small number of orchids (preferably duplicates) in that growing medium for at least one year or a full change of seasons whichever comes first.


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