A quick scroll through your favourite Plantfluencer's (its a thing) Instagram Feed and you'll most likely come across a totem or two. Totems are what you get when you take your Indoor Plant game from 'beginner' to 'intermediate' - just another step in the ongoing adventure that is indoor plant care.
Totems, (also referred to moss poles, or coir poles), are fantastic for climbing plants - especially aroids and epiphytes - as they mimic trees that would be found in the plants natural environments. They provide support for plants as well as giving those adventitious aerial roots a chance to draw in a few more micronutrients. Many plants supported by a totem will reward you with bigger foliage too.
The why, as (almost) always, is about providing your indoor plant with an environment that replicates its natural one. Many of our favourite indoor plants, such as Monsteras, Devil's Ivy, Philodendrons, Syngoniums (note - all aroids) send out aerial roots along their stem, looking for something to attach themselves to. You may prefer to keep them smaller and more compact, or have them spilling over a bookcase or ledge, in which case a totem is not required. But if you provide these aerial roots something to climb up, you'll be rewarded with a beautiful growth habit, possibly larger foliage, and an even happier plant.
The real trick is getting those adventitious roots to attach to the pole. Here, you need to make sure the point of contact is kept moist to encourage that bond.
When to totem
This is completely up to you. You may have a beautiful Scindapsus pictus that you've been watching spill over your bookshelf for the last couple of years, and now feel like letting this bad boy get his climb on. Or, you may have just purchased a very special Philodendron melanochrysum and want to make sure they're set up to climb from the get go. There is no wrong time, although some plants might require some pruning once a totem is added to encourage division and more growth.
- Totems can be made from a variety of different materials - moss or coir, they can be straight from a tree (ironbark is especially good) and you might find some work better than others. On the whole we prefer using moss as its easier to keep moist and encourage those roots, but you may find other mediums work better for different plants.
- When you first attach your plant to the totem, you may need to use twine or cloth to bind them together. Once the roots have attached, remove the twine and do a little dance - success! Think about adding more twine as the plant climbs.
- Once you plant hits the top, we like to take cuttings, get them to root and then replant at the base of the totem to thicken up the plant's habit. Alternatively, you can start binding the plant back down the totem to thicken it up that way.
- It is possible to extend a totem if you wasn't to keep reaching for the sky.
- Get your spritz on! Mistingregularly around where the aerial roots are developing on the totem will help encourage them to take. Another tip is to water down the totem keep it moist.