For the Valentine's Day month of February, Endless Flowers celebrates by bringing you another vibrant bouquet featuring orchids. These intricate flowers possess shapes and perfumes that cast a sensual and sophisticated ambience. For centuries, people attributed magical powers to orchids, and if you know anything about the mind/body connections, clearly the ancients may have been on to something! So what have you got to lose? Try placing an orchid spray under your pillow to inspire dreams of your future sweetheart, or, if you are really impatient, mix them in a love potion like people did in the Middle Ages--just don't ask us for a recipe!
Your Dendrobium (den-DRO-bee-um) orchids were grown in Thailand, where many hybrid and wild orchid species grow. Dendrobium is a huge genus boasting more than 1,100 species, occuring throughout much of Asia. The word Dendrobium comes from two Greek words, dendron ("tree") and bios ("life") and literally means "one who lives on trees." This description is apt, because most Dendrobium species are epiphytic, meaning they grow on other plants.
Orchids favor cool places; if too warm, the buds will drop off before they bloom. The greens in your orchid bouquet are Israeli Ruscus grown in California. They may very well outlast your orchids!
Orchids grow under many conditions: cool, warm, shade, and full sun; so knowing each orchid’s natural habitat dictates how you will care for your plant. According to Kauai Orchids, these beautiful and hearty flowers grow naturally in India, Sri Lanka, Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, New Guinea, Australia, the Pacific Islands, and New Zealand! Some orchids bloom in alternating sequences, and, under ideal conditions, they take quite a few days to wither – we’ve heard of some of them lasting two weeks or more. For them to last this long, which is unusual, they must have had excellent care, and perhaps the location of the vase was just right to sustain them. On the other end of the spectrum, some wild orchid species bloom and wither all at once. Needless to say, we’ll never be sending you those!
Orchid lore can be traced back to the early Greeks, who saw the delicate blossoms as symbols of virility, beauty, and love. Many people assume incorrectly that orchids are very fragile and that they are all very similar, so you may be surprised to learn that orchids can be grown in almost all possible environments, and that there is no plant family that is more diverse. In fact, the orchid family is the largest plant family known, growing wild on every continent except Antarctica. (What a surprise. What does grow in ice and snow, anyway?)
Orchids have some unbelievably unique characteristics. Some orchids have roots that can live on air – making us wonder how they can even sustain themselves. However, their roots are actually quite different from those of any other plant. A special sponge-like layer of tissue called “velamen” completely covers each root. This special sheathing acts as a moisture-collecting device while protecting the roots from direct sunlight. Wild orchids often find bizarre places to grow. Look for them in the crevices of rocks on the side of a cliff next time you’re out hiking!
This flora family is amazingly diverse, ranging from the thimble-sized Mystacidium Caffrum to the 20-foot-tall Renanthera Storei. Some orchids produce blossoms no larger than a mosquito, while others grow as large as a 12” dinner plate. Our current propagation methods and hybridizing trends give us more choices than ever. The flower’s many species have different shapes, forms, and growth habits. Some yield large flowers of bright hues, and others have small flowers of softer tones. They may flower singly or in small groups of two or three per stem. Some will bloom in a big cluster or a branch, yet others bend down in a flowing cluster. Their scents also run a wide gamut, ranging from those without any smell, to ones that have a soft and subtle scent, on to others with a more full-bodied and pungent fragrance. It’s no wonder people grow orchids for a hobby; they’re so intriguing!
Cymbidium orchids are very popular these days, as they offer a magnificent floral display. Among the largest of orchids, their tall spikes have from ten to twenty blooms, ranging from three to six inches; and they last from one to three months when they are planted. Native to the foothills of the Himalayas, these beauties are accustomed to cool conditions and grow naturally at fairly high altitudes in many areas of the world, including China, India, Thailand, Burma, Taiwan, and parts of Australia.
Location: Orchids are best kept outdoors from May to September, but they should be brought in before the danger of frost. You will need to control the water, so be sure to shelter them from hot sun and the rain. During the winter, a cool room is the best spot for your orchids. If the room is too warm, the flower buds may drop off, and you will have to wait another year to see the results of your labor!
Humidity: Orchids do not like wet roots, and they need humidity, so put your pots on a stand or tray, and then put the stand and pot in a larger container with pebbles and water. In the hot summer weather, your plants will love you if you mist them every day.
Temperature: In summer the plants will tolerate temperatures up to about 85°F (30°C) and in winter they are happiest with a night temperature of 50°F (10°C).
Watering: The plants require quite a lot of water in summer, roughly about a pint a week. In exceptionally hot weather, you may even give them up to two pints twice a week – just make sure they are in open bark that will drain immediately. In winter they need much less water: about a half a pint every week to 10 days should do it. The large amount of water is necessary in the summer to maintain very large pseudobulbs and to help with new growth.
Feeding: These plants are very hungry and need to be fed all year round, every week to ten days. On the fourth week, it’s a good idea to hold the food and give them plain water to avoid any buildup of undesirable chemicals around the roots. The plants thrive on foliar feeding; and, if you are using this method, both sides of all leaves need to be sprayed. You may use any suitable half-strength feed or special orchid food from nurseries and garden centers. Your orchids will benefi t more by giving them a higher nitrogen feed early in spring to help with the growth of new pseudobulbs. Then, feeding them with Tomarite or Phostrogen from late June or beginning of July will help to ensure that flower spikes are formed. These spikes usually show themselves some time in August or September. Standard orchids can become very large and take up lots of room, but they are very beautiful, and their flowers last for many weeks, even when cut. The plants are well worth a little tender loving care. If you have limited space, you might try miniature orchids, and both kinds of plants can be divided to provide new plants.
Potting: This is usually done in the spring after blooming, usually every two years or when the potting soil decomposes. Shake all the old potting mix off the roots and divide the plant, if desired. Divisions of green bulbs with leaves must have a minimum of 3 to 4 bulbs to bloom. Bulbs without leaves are called backbulbs and need special care to grow. Choose a potting mix that will hold moisture well; a medium-grade fir bark with peat moss and perlite is a common mix. Select a pot that will allow for at least 2 to 3 years of pseudobulb growth before crowding the pot. Place the active growing bulb(s) of the division farthest from the side of the pot. Spread the roots over a cone of the mix in the bottom of the pot, and fill the pot with medium, working it among the roots, tamping firmly. Keep shaded and drier at roots, but humid until new roots grow.
Note: Backbulbs may be left on the division to add strength, or you may remove them to propagate. Take single backbulbs and bury them halfway in a bark or peat/sand mix. Keep shaded and warm until new growth sprouts, and pot as instructed above. It may take up to three years to produce a blooming-size plant from this method.
Are orchids hard to grow?
Orchids are no more complicated than many popular flowers. If you grow other decorative plants either in the garden or indoors, you can grow orchids. Once a hobby for the wealthy, orchids are now reasonably priced because of modern reproductive methods. A word for the wise: the hardest thing about orchids is to not become addicted. Trying to own one orchid is like trying to eat one potato chip!
Should orchids be protected from drafts?
No. In fact, orchids require moving air. They do best where there is a steady, moist breeze. However, if grown indoors, blooming plants should be positioned away from air-conditioning or hot-air vents.
Are most orchids fragrant?
Some are so powerfully scented that they will perfume an entire greenhouse or living room! A few orchid fragrances defy description, while others have familiar aromas such as raspberry, coconut, lilacs, and citrus. Then there are those that give off no scent but rely on shape and color to attract insects or birds for pollination, thereby continuing the life cycle of the species.
Are orchids short-lived?
Actually, most are long-lived. In fact, some species are virtually immortal, given the proper attention. Divisions or propagations of orchids discovered in the 19th century are still growing and flowering today.
How often do orchids bloom and how long do orchid blooms last?
Some of these flowers bloom once a year, others bloom several times a year, and certain ones even bloom continuously. Blooms of hybrids of the genus “Cattleya” may last from one to four weeks on the plant. And those of the genus “Phalaenopsis” commonly last from one to four months.
Is conservation of orchids an important issue?
Yes, absolutely. Sadly, though, orchid species are becoming extinct faster than they can be described and classified. Threats to orchids originate primarily from collecting of orchid species at home and abroad.
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