It all started in early November, when someone brought cuttings of basket plant (Callisia fragrans) to share with the garden club. I took two, though I had no idea what I would do with them. They sat on a brick ledge by the front door for several days, unplanted and unwatered but not entirely unloved. Just when I was thinking it was time to pot them or toss them, I noticed that they had not withered Obviously they were taking moisture and nutrition from the air. Suspecting that they might be epiphytes, I ventured upon an experiment I'd been planning for years.
Our front garden is graced with the six-foot trunk of a dead Australian tree fern, Cyathea cooperi. I have steadfastly refused to remove it because I thought it would make a natural support for a vine. In fact, an opportunistic asparagus fern (not sprengeri but the more delicate-looking variety with the wicked thorns) clung to it for months until I declared war on asparagus ferns and removed all but the slow-growing old meyeri.
I tore strips from a raggedy brown bath towel and used them to tie the basket plant to the top of the defunct tree fern trunk. There they have flourished for almost three months with naught but an occasional spritzing from a spray bottle. But they were not alone. Later in November, a neighbor shared some epidendrum cuttings. Two went into a pot, and two were wired onto the base of the tree fern trunk.
Meanwhile, several potted epiphyllums had been languishing in the back yard for several years. In spite of gross neglect, some of them have continued to produce huge blossoms every spring. I took the smallest one out of its pot, trimmed back its dead leaves, and separated the plant into two main stems. These I tied to the tree fern trunk just below the basket plant, along with the epidendra I had previously planted at the base.
A couple of days ago, I returned from a walk around the block, and the refurbished tree fern caught my eye as soon as I rounded the corner. Recent rains had refreshed the guest foliage, and, with the top starting to fluff out, it looked like a plant that was meant to grow that way. All it needed was a name, and so Cyathea mater epiphiticorum -- tree fern mother of epiphytes -- was duly christened.
Eat your heart out, Joyce Kilmer! A gard'ner-poet re-made a tree.