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Re: [aroid-l] Artificial Trees

At 5:59 PM -0500 1/6/03, Harry Witmore wrote:
I just received my Orchids monthly magazine and there is an article on creating an artificial tree in it. I wondered, does anyone on this list have any experience with doing something like this and if so, what process did you use. I have a small (8'wx6'lx12'h) greenhouse that I want to place an epiphyte tree in and would like to make it artificial so it will not rot.

I have worked with a number of different artificial tree structures, the biggest one being 15-18' tall, with seven branches. The base structure for this tree was rebar, with a central core of pieces, and a perimeter of pieces helping to define the diameter of the trunk, a little over three feet at the base. All the branches had rebar going through them which could then be tied onto the trunk framework. What really gave this tree its structural integrity, however, was the polyurethane isocyanate (expandable foam), of a type used to make structures for theatre sets - denser than the expandable foam spray insulation.

However, this process was much too extensive to be anything I would recommend for a home application. What I might recommend instead, depending on the financial commitment you want to make, perhaps with a couple of other like-minded growers, would be to order a bale of small cork tubes (is Maryland Cork Co. still in business? - that's where I got the bale that I got, but it's been better than ten years ago now). The reason I suggest trying to get a bale of small tubes, roughly 100 pounds of cork, is that when they put the tubes together for a bale, invariably what amounts to some entire branches that have been sectioned up get packaged together. When you take the fastners off the bale and lay all the pieces out, you can fairly quickly see and reassemble some impressive branches, probably a couple that might give you trouble fitting into your greenhouse.

Once you have the cork tubes to make the branches, you have to seal them back,using a construction adhesive and tying wire, such that there are no holes or seams in the branches. Fit the branches onto some rebar, use some sturdier wire to suspend the rebar into the center of the cork-tube diameter, then fill the cork-tube branch with the spray insulation expandable foam.
The ends and the rebar can be finished with paint or with one of the plastic-dip type products, and you have a wonderful branch/branches that will last for years.

I wrote about putting a tree together and the benefits of growing/displaying plants in this way back in '92 for Selbyana, ("Horticultural Aspects of Growing and Displaying a Wide Variety of
Epiphytes." Selbyana, 13:95-98), one of very few papers ever published in Selbyana that deals with horticultural aspects of plants.

I have worked with using essentially a finished artificial tree and gluing cork pieces onto it, such as folks may have seen done several places. While the initial effect is good, it can be a real high maintenance problem, and I would not recommend going this route.
Using cut branches from cypress or from the osage orange (sorry, I don't have the scientific name handy at this desk) will provide you with real branches that will last anywhere from five to fifteen years before rotting, I would guess. Sassafras is another potential good wood for this, and one that does not slough off its bark.

I have the feeling that I've gone on long enough for an initial response to the question - if you would like to explore anything that I've suggested further, please get in touch.

Jonathan Ertelt

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