Epiphytic orchids, those that grow upon a support, have modified aerial roots that can sometimes be a few meters long. In the older parts of the roots, a modified spongy epidermis, called a velamen, has the function of absorbing humidity. It is made of dead cells and can have a silvery-grey, white or brown appearance. In some orchids, the velamen includes spongy and fibrous bodies near the passage cells, called tilosomes.
There are over 60 varieties of the Vanilla orchid, and unfortunately, it only blooms for one day, opening in the morning and closing at night. They grow in clusters of 12-20 buds, and they are yellow-green in color and reach approximately six inches in length. Just like their name suggests, you can actually get vanilla from these flowers, and the blooms have a nice vanilla scent as well. They have to be mature in order to flower, which can take two to three years, and they grow up to ten feet in height. They do best in a garden or a greenhouse, but never as an indoor plant, and they need vertical support to grow and thrive.
With over 300 species, this type of orchid is well-known but not as common as people think, in part because only a few of the species consist of showy flowers that catch people’s attention. The ones that do, however, come in colors such as yellow with white tips and dark red edges, or dark red with wide white stripes. They contain three separate lobes and beautiful, narrow leaves that perfectly complement the petals.
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 pseudobulb has a smooth surface with lengthwise grooves, and can have different shapes, often conical or oblong. Its size is very variable; in some small species of Bulbophyllum, it is no longer than two millimeters, while in the largest orchid in the world, Grammatophyllum speciosum (giant orchid), it can reach three meters. Some Dendrobium species have long, canelike pseudobulbs with short, rounded leaves over the whole length; some other orchids have hidden or extremely small pseudobulbs, completely included inside the leaves.
Most orchids are not heavy feeders. Many orchids bloom year after year with no fertilizer at all. During active growth, when new leaves are being produced, you may fertilize every other time you water at half the strength recommended on the fertilizer package. However, it's important to deliver water without fertilizer at least once a month to flush excess fertilizer salts from the bark mix and avoid fertilizer burn to the roots.
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