Arguably, there is no other flower so wonderful to the senses and so flamboyant and well-designed, as the orchid. Orchids don't just take your breath away, they also bring you their mezmerizing scents. This month we put you in that orchid state of bliss with a shipment combining Cymbidium (larger flower) and Red Sonia orchids, accompanied by Hala leaves and Bear Grass.
The meaning of orchids is generally centered on beauty, luxury and love. Few flowers can impress as orchids do, which is why orchids are often sent to say ‘thank you’, ‘I love you’ and so much more. We know you will absolutely fall in love with this shipment, and when you follow our directions for flower care, you may have two or more weeks to admire these orchids.
One of my fondest memories is a vacation my family and I took when I was 14yrs-old to Hawaii. I remember sitting on the beach braiding orchids into my little sister’s hair and watching the evening sun glistening on the surface of the water. The air smelled so sweet and I was totally immersed in paradise.
There is no right or wrong way to arrange these orchids. They lend to simple lines and forms, asymmetric placement or usage of negative space, so don't be afraid to experiment. They can stand alone, so you could even make more than one arrangement with them. Try this arrangement on for size. Start with a tall vase which has a small opening, and add some polished rocks or marbles. Cut a slit in the center of each Hala leaf and invert the top portion of each leaf into and through its slit. Now place each one at an angle. Fill the vase with the Red Sonias - cutting them all the same length is fine. Then cut the Cymbidium stem longer than the Red Sonias and place the Cymbidium stem in the center. Finally position the Bear Grass in several clumps, all going in the same direction - stack the blades on top of each other to help keep them together.
Renowned for its floral beauty, the Cymbidium is one of the most popular orchid flowers in the world. In ancient times, Asian cultures gave the Cymbidium Orchid as a gift of honor, respect and friendship. Cymbidiums are divided into two groups – Standard Cymbidiums (large-flowered type) and Miniature Cymbidiums (small-flowered type).
The Orchid family is amazingly diverse, 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. And our 21st century propagation methods and hybridizing trends give us more choices than ever. The many species have different shapes, forms and growth habits. Some bear large flowers of bright hues, while others have little 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 a soft and subtle scent, and to a more full-bodied and pungent fragrance. No wonder people grow orchids for a hobby; they are so beautiful and interesting.
There are five sub-families of orchids: Cypridedioideae, Epidendroideae, Neottiodeae, Orchidoideae and Vandoideae. Within these groups, there are four main categories of orchids. Epiphytic Orchids grow high in the trees attached to branches or in the trunk of a tree. The roots will often dangle free in the air; they obtain their nutrients from the rain, air and vegetation that the roots can touch. 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.
Lithophytic Orchids are seen covering the bases of trees or in crevices of rocks, and absorb their supply of nutrients from decaying mosses. These wild orchids often will be found in bizarre places like the sides of cliffs.
Terrestrial Orchids and Saphrophytic Orchids are similar in that they can be found rooted in the ground, but Saphrophytes are special. All orchids require a symbiotic relationship with a special fungus for germination and early growth, whereby the fungus supplies the orchid with the nutrients and energy it needs to grow. But while other orchid types become capable of supporting themselves through photosynthesis, the saphrophytes are non-photosynthetic and rely on the fungus to supply them with nutrients and energy throughout their entire lives. These orchids are parasites, feeding off the fungus to survive.
Orchids are relatively easy to grow. In fact, some say they're not easy to kill! If you grow other ornamental plants either in the garden or indoors, you can grow orchids. 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!
Once a hobby for the wealthy, orchids are now reasonably priced because of modern reproductive methods. Temperature is the most critical factor in blooming. In summer, orchid 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). Orchids do not like artificial heating in the house because it dries out the soil and the blooms will fall from the stem more quickly. A little word for the wise... the hardest thing about orchids is to not become addicted. Trying to own one orchid is like trying to eat just one peanut!
A couple of common species to grow at home are the Phalaenopsis and the hybrids, Cattleya. The Phalaenopsis flowers can last up to four months on the plant. The Cattleya flowers can stay on the plant up to four weeks. Some bloom once a year, others bloom several times a year, and some even bloom continuously.
LOCATION: Usually orchids are best kept outdoors from May to September, but bring them in before the danger of frost. Shelter them from hot sun and from the rain as well, since you need to control the watering. They like the potting soil medium dry before watering. 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 effort of your labor!
HUMIDITY: All orchids need humidity but they don't like wet feet, so place a tray of water under your orchid, but put the pot on top of a trivet or pebbles which are higher than the water level. Keep the water that surrounds your plant fresh. In the hot summer weather it's a good idea to mist your plants every day, but not in the winter.
WATER: Like most plants, orchids require quite a lot of water in summer, roughly about a pint a week. In exceptionally hot weather, give even two pints twice a week (providing the plants are in open bark which will drain immediately). In winter they need much less - about a half a pint every week to 10 days. The large amount of water is necessary in the summer to maintain very large pseudo bulbs and to aid new growth.
FEEDING: Orchids are quite hungry and need to be fed all year round. They should be fed every week to ten days. On the fourth week hold the food and give them plain water to avoid any buildup of undesirable chemicals around the roots. The plants seem to thrive on foliar feeding, and if you are using this method both sides of all leaves need to be sprayed. Any suitable half strength feed will do, or special orchid food from nurseries and garden centers.
Your orchids will benefit more by giving them a higher nitrogen feed early in spring to help with the growth of new pseudo bulbs. By giving a food such as Tomarite or Phostrogen from late June or beginning of July, you will help to ensure that flower spikes are formed. These usually peep through sometime in August or September. Standard orchids can become very large and take up lots of room. If you have tight quarters, miniature orchids are now available, and both kinds of plants can be divided to provide new plants.
POTTING: Potting is usually done in the spring after blooming, and normally every two years or when the potting medium decomposes. Shake all the old potting mix off the roots, dividing the plant if desired. Divisions of green bulbs with leaves must have 3 to 4 bulbs minimum to bloom.
Pick 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 bulbs 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, and tamping firmly. The junction of roots and pseudo bulbs should be about ½" to 1" below the top of the mix.
Bulbs without leaves are called backbulbs, and need special care to grow. Backbulbs may be left on the division to add strength, or removed to propagate. Take single backbulbs, and bury halfway in a bark or peat/sand mix. Keep your bulbs warm and in the shade with roots that are more dry than wet, and give them lots of humidity. When new growth sprouts, pot as above. It may take up to three years to produce a blooming-size plant from this method.
Q. Where can I get more information?
A. There are many excellent books available to help a novice grower learn more. The American Orchid Society (AOS) offers an extensive book list, all of which can be ordered online at their Bookshop. Among the many publications in this listing is a variety of illustrated handbooks published by the AOS covering many topics, including the control of common orchid pests and diseases, orchid photography, and procedures for judging and exhibition. The AOS also offers a series of cultural video tapes, all providing the most updated information. Perhaps the most useful learning step is to become a member of your local orchid society. Currently, there are more than 550 Affiliated Societies scattered around the globe.
Q. What sort of soil do orchids need?
A. Would you believe that most don't require any soil! Orchids can be divided into four types according to growing conditions. Most are classified as "Epiphytes" or air plants which grow chiefly on trees. “Lithophytes” cling to the surfaces of rocks. "Saprophytes" grow in decaying vegetation on the forest floor, and "Terrestrials" anchor themselves in soil or sand. Since most orchids are Epiphytes, they can be grown on tree bark (fir or redwood), crumbled charcoal, pebbles, or on tree-fern or cork plaques.
Q. Are most orchids fragrant?
A. Some are so powerfully scented they will perfume an entire greenhouse or living room. A few orchid fragrances defy description, while others mimic familiar aromas -raspberry, coconut, lilacs, vanilla and citrus. Others have no scent, but rely on shape and color to attract insects or birds for pollination, thereby continuing the life cycle of the species.
Q. Is conservation of orchids an important issue?
A. Absolutely! Sadly, orchid species are becoming extinct faster than they can be described and classified. Threats to orchids originate primarily from loss of habitat and collecting. The American Orchid Society (AOS) advocates the purchase of only artificially propagated orchids, either from meristems or seeds, which will help discourage the collecting of orchid species in their natural habitat. The AOS also encourages orchidists to pollinate orchid species already in their collections and to share the seedlings with their fellow orchidists. For more information about this serious topic, and to learn how to get involved and to support conservation efforts, visit: www.aos.org.
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