Orchids are an incredibly unique and fascinating group of plants. Many people can identify a Phalaenopsis (moth orchid) or Cattleya (the old corsage orchids), but the question often is asked, “What makes an orchid an orchid?” Orchids have some morphological (physical) traits that make them stand out from other plant families. In orchids, many of their floral parts come in groups of three. There are three sepals, which are the outer petals; these are what you see when you look at an unopened bud. There are also three petals, but in orchids one of the petals has been specialized into a labellum, or lip. This is usually the bottommost petal, and it helps to attract the pollinator to the reproductive organ. In orchids the reproductive organ, known as the column, combines both the male and female parts in one structure.
Orchid stems are also specialized into what are called pseudobulbs. These are basically expanded stems that allow the plant to store excess water and food. The roots of epiphytic (tree-dwelling) orchids have a special outer layer of dead cells called velamen. Because orchids metabolize slowly in order to not outpace their resources, the roots also absorb slowly, meaning that they need help catching water as it passes by. The velamen cells catch and fill with water as it passes by so that the true root (the core of the root structure) has ample time to access as much water as it can. Velamen is silver-white in color, but becomes transparent when wet, so that when the root is wet it turns green as you are able to see through to the inner structures of the root that contain chlorophyll.
Now that we’ve laid out the general guidelines, we will explore the ins and outs of how to water phalaenopsis orchids by answering some of the questions you’re sure to have if you are new to the world of these intriguing plants. So read on to learn about different aspects involved in understanding how to water phalaenopsis orchids to encourage healthy growth and prolific flowering!
Orchids of all types have also often been sought by collectors of both species and hybrids. Many hundreds of societies and clubs worldwide have been established. These can be small, local clubs, or larger, national organisations such as the American Orchid Society. Both serve to encourage cultivation and collection of orchids, but some go further by concentrating on conservation or research.
The Sobralia orchid genus grows ubiquitously in much of South and Central America; I've heard them called "ditchweed"! They have beautiful, short-lived flowers whose appearance is somewhat similar to a large Cattleya orchid. Flowers can be more than 6 inches (15cm) across in some species. The plants can get quite large, however, so you need to have enough space for them!
The potting mixture, or growing medium, for a phalaenopsis orchid should be good at both absorbing water and providing airflow to the roots of the plant. Therefore, consider using media such as tree bark, coconut coir, clay pellets, perlite, pumice pebbles, and sphagnum moss, either on their own or blended together. If you live in a humid climate, choose a courser potting mixture that dries quickly and provides the best drainage. On the other hand, those who live in a dry climate should use a finer medium that will dry more slowly and hold more moisture.
Some orchids, such as Neottia and Corallorhiza, lack chlorophyll, so are unable to photosynthesise. Instead, these species obtain energy and nutrients by parasitising soil fungi through the formation of orchid mycorrhizas. The fungi involved include those that form ectomycorrhizas with trees and other woody plants, parasites such as Armillaria, and saprotrophs. These orchids are known as myco-heterotrophs, but were formerly (incorrectly) described as saprophytes as it was believed they gained their nutrition by breaking down organic matter. While only a few species are achlorophyllous holoparasites, all orchids are myco-heterotrophic during germination and seedling growth, and even photosynthetic adult plants may continue to obtain carbon from their mycorrhizal fungi.
Make sure the pot has drainage holes. You can't properly water an orchid unless it has holes through which the water can drain. Water sitting in the pot will cause the roots to rot, so it needs to be able to drain through the bottom. If you bought an orchid that came in an ornamental pot without holes, repot the orchid in one with adequate holes in the bottom. Use an orchid potting mix instead of regular potting soil.
Once you develop more than a passing interest in orchids, you will quickly notice how diverse this exotic plant family is. Encompassing genera that yield both the vanilla you love to bake with and fragrances you love to wear, each flower has unique characteristics and care requirements. Compare your plants to some of the most commonly cultivated orchids to help you determine what type of orchid you are growing.
This is not a type of orchid you’ll want to place on your windowsill, because the stems grow up to four feet high. Phaius orchids have large, strappy leaves, and they usually produce petals that are yellow, purple, or white. Also known as the Nun’s Cap orchid, it is a winter bloomer and makes a great addition to anyone’s garden, regardless of what else is planted there.
Check your water. For a long time, serious growers insisted that orchids could only be watered with rainwater. Nowadays, most people just use tap water, and this is fine. However, be aware that treated water may have higher salt content, and some water is high in calcium. If you see deposits forming on your plants, you should seek out a new water source.
Avoid overwatering which leads to the demise of many more orchids than underwatering. Constant wetness will cause the roots to rot, which leaves the plant without a means for taking up nourishment which then causes the leaves to droop and will eventually kill the plant. The classic advice is to water the day before the plant dries out. If you have to let the plant go dry to figure out what a dry plant weighs, it will not kill the plant and will make you a better grower. Another measure is to use the pencil trick (the point of a sharpened pencil, when inserted into the medium, will darken with moisture if the plant has enough water). And, there's always the old standby - put your finger in the mix. If it feels wet, it is wet. If you aren't sure whether it is time to water, wait one more day.
Another type of orchid you can grow at home is what I call the “Thai restaurant orchids.” These types of orchids are Dendrobium hybrids and can be found at Thai restaurants that decorate their tables with freshly-cut flowers. They come in many colors (white, green, purple, pink, yellow and more) and require a fairly warm environment. In fact, they could loose their leaves in the winter when the ambient temperature drops below 60°F (15°C) or so. But the “Thai restaurant orchid” is really just one small group of hybrids within the Dendrobium genus. Dendrobium is actually one of the largest orchid genera.
The orchid family is an incredibly large and diverse plant family, with more than 25,000 different species and more than 150,000 registered hybrids. The variation within a single species can be significant, let alone across the entire family. But with a little practice, knowledge, and observation, almost anyone can identify the most common types of orchids. Identifying one orchid from the next will be helpful in understanding what conditions they prefer and how to grow and flower them well. Happy growing!
The Neottieae tribe consists of 3 genera. It is distributed throughout the world including Europe, tropical Africa, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, China, Japan, New Guinea, and Australia. In the Western Hemisphere, it is found in the western United States, Central America, and South America. They have fleshy, but slender roots, and thrive in temperate habitats.
The other important use of orchids is their cultivation for the enjoyment of the flowers. Most cultivated orchids are tropical or subtropical, but quite a few that grow in colder climates can be found on the market. Temperate species available at nurseries include Ophrys apifera (bee orchid), Gymnadenia conopsea (fragrant orchid), Anacamptis pyramidalis (pyramidal orchid) and Dactylorhiza fuchsii (common spotted orchid).
The Cypripedioideae subfamily is known for its lady slipper orchids, which are named after their slipper-shaped pouches that trap insects and help the flowers get pollinated. There are 5 genera in this subfamily: Cypripedium, Mexipedium, Paphiopedilum, Phragmipedium, and Selenipedium. Cypripedioideae orchids have two lateral, fertile anthers, which is unusual in most other orchids.