Superglue and Mounted Orchids:
Does It Harm the Roots?

Mounting orchids onto a piece of driftwood, cork, or slab is such a rewarding experience. If you place that mounted orchid in a terrarium, the effect is quite compensating, because not only do you have a beautiful, exotic plant but you also have a miniature habitat in which it lives. It’s like you bring a little piece of the subtropical rainforest into your living room.
Super GLue Mounted Orchid
Image Credit: © Orchideria 2020. All Rights Reserved 
This orchid will be mounted on driftwood, and I was debating using superglue or to just tie it with fishing line.
 If you have a piece of driftwood, why not  mount an orchid to it? The most common items that are used to attach orchids are:

fishing line,
sewing thread,

Can you use superglue when mounting orchids? Common household superglue is not recommended for mounting orchids since orchid roots photosynthesize, making them different than the average houseplant or air plant. Superglue’s active ingredient is cyanoacrylate, which burns the orchid roots, making it an inviable option for providing stability on the mount.

Orchid roots are more sensitive to absorbing nutrients and chemicals since they are epiphytes (growing on the sides of tree bark or rocks and not in soil), and the reaction with superglue chemically burns their roots. Yet, there are other “superglues” that are recommended, and I’ll list them below. In this article, you’ll learn all about the different types of glue that are and aren’t recommended or mounting orchids.

Superglue has had a part in History

Superglue, the same glue that we keep in our toolboxes and craft supplies, has long been considered a useful tool in first-aid kits to seal minor wounds and cuts. It was used in the pharmacies of traveling doctors throughout World War II, healing open wounds on soldiers.

During the Vietnam War, a little more study and research had been done and superglue was perfected, using less of its active ingredient. If the wound had no clear signs of infection, was superficial, and free of debris, superglue was recommended to sealing the cut.

This has recently changed, (if you classify 1988 as recent—I do).

Superglue is now considered toxic by the FDA and is not recommended for applying on human skin. Superglue is composed of cyanoacrylate (C5H5NO2) and when it comes into contact with air, it forms a strong bond that provokes a chemical reaction that burns the roots of the orchids.

Instead, the FDA has approved a less toxic substance which is composed of 2-octyl cyanoacrylate. That glue, which can be found in the brand names Dermabond, SurgiSeal, and Band-Aid Liquid Bandage, may be used to mount orchids.

Can any brand of superglue be used safely to mount orchids?

Superglue, fabricated with cyanoacrylate, is not recommended to use for securing the orchid’s roots onto a mount because of its toxicity, as explained before.

The best superglues to use are the same that the FDA approved, which contain 2-octyl-cyanocrylate. Along with the brands listed above, used to close minor cuts, faster drying glues, or ones that come in a thicker gel, like KRAZY GLUE and Gorilla Glue, which contains urethane, are more recommended for mounting orchids.

Gorilla glue will expand when dried up to three times its size, so use it sparingly on your mount.

What about hot glue? Can Hot glue be used for mounting orchids?

Hot glue is good for holding orchids in place on the mount, but the high temperatures will burn right through the velamen and burn the delicate orchid root, sometimes killing it. There is an extremely fine parenthesis that is open in this process, which is attaching the orchid to the glue once it isn’t that hot.
Yet, wait too long and the glue dries too fast and the orchid won’t be mounted correctly on the slab.

For me, I find this threshold a little bit too slim and risky.

Either I kill the roots, or I ruin my slab with tons of cold, hard glue that breaks the mount when I try to remove it.
An orchid moutned on driftwood using superglue
Image Credit: © Orchideria 2020. All Rights Reserved
Mounted Orchid on Driftwood

Superglue has been used in terrariums for Centuries. Why can't it be used with orchids?

Orchid roots are different.

Superglue has been used in the past to mount bromeliads and other plants like ferns and moss onto branches inside of terrariums. So mistakingly, many people use the same technique with orchids—killing them. This happens because the roots of an orchid are extremely different than those of other plants, especially household plants.

Many air plants are secured onto slabs and driftwood using superglue, and for them, this is perfectly fine. They have tiny roots and their roots will not react with the superglue, as orchid roots do.

In fact, air plants do not use their roots to absorb any nutrients, just to fixate themselves onto their surroundings. Air plants get all their nutrition and water through their leaves. I guess that in less-technical terms, you could classify orchids as a midway point between a houseplant and an air plant.

Orchids photosynthesize through their roots, which neither air plants nor houseplants do. Most plants mounted in terrariums use their roots to provide stability, and only stability, just like the air plants. Use superglue all you want on those, just being careful not to get ANY SUPERGLUE ON THE LEAVES.

Being epiphytes (fixating themselves of trees and rocks), orchids have a coating of velamen over the roots that provide for maximum absorption and water retention, along with chlorophyll in the roots. Even thought this outer coat is in fact dead, it still provides maximum absorption of both light, water, and nutrients, unlike other houseplants and air plants.

The orchid roots then absorb the chemicals that are both volatile and in full contact with the bark or driftwood, making them more sensitive to superglue.
If you’ve noticed the strong smell after using Gorilla Glue or any other type of superglue, you know what I’m talking about.

Is Silicone recommended for mounting orchids?

Silicone (or tilly glues, as some stores call it) is the perfect solution for mounting orchids onto a slab or driftwood if you are patient and will not move the orchid in the 24 hours after mounting it. Silicone takes an excessive amount of time to dry and if the orchid moves, it will not be attached correctly to the mount.

Silicone is not toxic and has been used for in terrariums and vivariums for centuries. If the silicone is safe for frogs, salamanders, geckos, and other reptiles, it’s safe for orchids and other plants.

How to use the Approved Forms of Superglue to Mount Orchids

When mounting orchids onto driftwood, make sure you don’t apply glue to the entire extension of the pseudobulb (if it is a sympodial orchid). Leave a few live pseudobulbs without glue to guarantee their survival, but use glue on the dead bulbs in excess to make sure they are not moving.

For monopodial orchids, like Phalaenopsis, apply the glue to one-third of the roots, but not all the way down the full extension of the roots. You should apply just enough to keep the roots in place, and the root tips should be free to roam. The roots need to grow onto the slab or driftwood, but not to the moss.

Place a layer of sphagnum moss over the roots but not under them. Moss is used to expand the percentage of relative humidity around the orchid since your orchid will dry out sooner than a potted orchid would. If you want to read more about how to water a mounted orchid, this article goes over the techniques of how to do that.

I like to use a small amount of glue just to guarantee the orchid won’t move and secure the mount with twine until the tips of the roots attach. Since I do not have my orchid mounts on display, it’s easier to deal with the ugly twine for a few months.

I can later take off the twine, or leave it until it disintegrates, when at that point the roots will be firmly on the mount.

When I mount a terrarium, things are a bit different. No twine is used, so I have to strongly depend upon superglue.

If you want more specific information on how to mount orchid onto driftwood, read this article. I explain step-by-step of how to mount an orchid and talk about things that no one else is mentioning about orchid mounts. It’s worth the read.
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Is Probation of Superglue for Mounted Orchids a Fixed, Non-negotiable Opinion?

No. Superglue has been used to mount orchids for years and will continue to be used for such. Some roots die, some roots live. Some orchid enthusiast will keep using it and will make massive terrariums that are just amazingly awesome.

Yet, I will not use superglue to mount orchids. I have to be true to what I believe and after even more extensive research of the properties of into what goes into superglue, that just made my decision even more firm. I can use other types of glue, that are extremely similar to superglue, but not superglue itself.

Can you use superglue for your orchids? Yes, you can. Just like you can use ice cubes to water your orchids. I’ll still be strongly against it, mainly because I need every orchid root alive that I can keep alive.
Further Reading Suggestions:

Don't just take my word for what is written here. Continue researching other articles about superglue and orchids, because everyone has a different point of view and unique techniques that work for them. Here are a few other articles from other websites if you'd like to continue your research on the use of superglue, even though they don't  specifically target for mounted orchids:

"The combination of plant-based particles and water forms an 'eco' super-glue"    published on Aalto University talks about plant-based cellulose nanocrystals have remarkable inherent properties, and when combined with water, a powerful adhesive is formed that competes in strength with Superglue, without the need for toxic solvents.

"Use of glue to close a wound is medical treatment - OSHA-------" written by Keith Goddard published a response letter on OSHA's website where he talks about the differences between the different types of superglue for medical treatment.

Happy Cultivating!

Signature Amanda Matthews
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2 comments on “Superglue and Mounted Orchids: Does It Harm the Roots?”

  1. While there are exceptions to why cyanoacrylate adhesives from office supply stores might not be appropriate for fixing orchid plants to mounts, bio-incompatibility is not necessarily the case. 2-octyl-cyanocrylate, while FDA approved, is possibly a case of what is known in the adhesives industry as "evergreening" - extending dominance in manufacture of a patented material after the original patent expires. One U.S. trained acquaintance, an emergency physician, told me that while he has read the literature about allergic reactions to ordinary cyanoacrylate, he has never seen any reactions. He uses it in his medical instruction venue in the Middle East because of the scarcity of North American medical supplies. Application of adhesive on orchids, when applied strategically to correctly prepared faying surfaces, is minimal and unlikely to have lasting effects on the plant.

    The polyurethane glues (e.g. Gorilla Glue) cure using diisocyanate, a sensitizer, used cautiously in the aircraft composites industries. Wear gloves, use in well ventilated areas and avoid inhaling fumes. Diisocyanate reacts with moisture to produce carbon dioxide gas as well as react with the polyol resin.

    Unless one uses the platinum-cured silicone adhesive formulations, silicone adhesives used for aquariums and household repairs produce acetic acid (what creates that vinegar smell) during curing. Again, so long as it is used in strategic positions, there is minimal long-term effects. Cure for 72 hours at 50% or higher relative humidity for full strength. Partial strength occurs after about five hours. Ambient moisture is part of the curing reactants. That's why using a wet finger wipe for spreading silicone sealant beads can provide a smooth surface when caulking doors, windows and bath tubs.

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