These orchids are the easiest and most rewarding of the family for the home grower as they produce arching spikes of ten or more flowers as often as three times a year. In nature there are just under 50 wild species which are found from India eastwards through the Philippines and into Northern Australia. The name Phalaenopsis (pronounced fal-ee-nop-sis) is from the Greek and means moth-like. The plants are shade-loving and grow on branches or on rocks where the air is warm and moist.
Phalaenopsis plants do not have pseudobulbs and the strength of the plant is in its large, leathery leaves and thick roots. New leaves appear slowly and regularly over each other and are generally a deep green but occasionally can be attractively mottled.
The flowers appear on a spike from the stem between the leaves and, depending on the type, there may be anything from a single flower to over one hundred. When flowering has finished, the flowering stem can be cut off just above a dormant bud. This bud will then start to grow and will produce even more flowers. Occasionally a flower bud will develop into a small plant with roots which can be cut off and potted up. These propagations may flower within a couple of years.
Many hundreds of hybrids have been bred, and the trade in Phalaenopsis is a huge pot-plant market because of the ease of cultivation as house plants.
Temperature and Humidity
Because of their wild origins, they like a minimum temperature of 20°C (68°F) although adult plants grow happily at 15°C (60°F) and actually flower better after a few weeks at this night temperature in Autumn. They will benefit from being over (but not in) a tray of pebbles that should be kept wet to boost the atmospheric humidity.
As they are shade plants, the moth orchids prefer dappled light (an East or West facing windowsill behind a net curtain is ideal). Too much bright light can burn the leaves and turn the plants yellowish, while too little will result in plants with soft leaves and which don't flower.
Watering and feeding
As they do not have storage pseudobulbs, their compost should be kept evenly moist using tepid rainwater. Do not let it dry out. Avoid using cold water and don't allow water to remain in the crown of the plants for more than a couple of hours as it can induce rotting. Give a quarter strength fertilizer once a month.
Clay pots, often found at garden centres, are better for the beginner as they breathe. Use a coarse bark mixture with added charcoal, perlite (and sphagnum moss if in quick drying conditions). The roots often grow outside the pot, but this is quite natural and indicates you are doing things right!. Repot after flowering. Don't overpot; wash the old compost from the roots before working the new compost gently and firmly around the roots.
- You Can Grow Phalaenopsis, by Mary Noble
- Beginner's Guide to Phalaenopsis Orchids, by Bob Gordon
- The Culture of Phalaenopsis Orchids, by Bob Gordon
- The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Orchids, by Alec Pridgeon
- Orchids for Everyone, by Williams et al (Beginners)
The North Hampshire Orchid Society is affiliated to The Royal Horticultural Society & The Orchid Society of Great Britain
This site was designed by DragNet