Most of us have seen an Orchid but have no idea how many different ones there are. The CATTELYA, most often found in corsages, especially in the past, is the idea most have of orchids when actually there are 35,000 species. If you went to the orchid show in Lincoln in November you saw many of the different ones with every color, shape, and size you can imagine.  Actually their size varies from an inch to 20 feet tall.  Some are perfumed varying at different times of the day.

          Orchids vary from demanding very bright light (VANDA) to low light (PHALAENOPSIS), also called MOTH ORCHID. Some like to be kept damp (PAPHIOPEDIUM), also called Slipper Orchid, while others such as DENDROBIUMS, need to dry between watering.  So just like many other flowers, you need to know the orchid you are getting and what it prefers. These differences have made orchids “difficult” to some.  There are many beginning books available.  The Lincoln Orchid Society also has special instruction pages for the more common orchids. Many full service garden centers and your County Extension Service also have instructions on how to grow orchids. If you have access to the internet you can find lots of useful information on growing orchids.

          Many people think orchids are too expensive to work with but their blooms may last several months.  Most other house plants can’t do that.  They are not hard to grow when you find out their needs in regards to water, food, light, and air are the same as any other plant.  One big difference though, is that many of them do not need soil.  In the wild they cling to rocks and branches up in trees living on anything that lands on their roots.  Soil is too tight and doesn’t give them the air they need. So I think people have tried just about everything to make them happy. Bark was most popular for a long time, but now you can get coconut fiber, marbles, or just fasten to a piece of bark or cork.  So far I have decided to favor coconut fiber as it holds some water but doesn’t stay soaked if you pour it through. I put the pots on the dish draining rack in my sink. You can check for scale and mealy bugs at the same time.  Our Lincoln water contains a good deal of calcium which can build up making them unhappy so I use distilled water some of the time to wash it off their roots and the fibre.

          There are some orchids that will grow in soil.  Nebraska has 17 native orchids most growing in loose soil or leaf litter.  One of these soil orchids is LANDISIA DISCOLOR or JEWEL ORCHID and is as easy to grow as a Geranium but it has velvet black leaves with red markings.  It blooms for me every year in fall or winter with small white blooms on spikes.  Misting will spot the leaves so be careful in your watering! If I break a limb off as they grow fast, I stick it in another pot with ordinary potting soil and soon I have another orchid to give away.  They do not like South windows as their leaves fade.

          Two of my orchids are ONCIDIUMS, also called DANCING LADIES with blooms on long slender stems that sway in the breeze like a ladies skirt.  They like small pots but get fairly large so plants can fall over easily.  I lay a rock or two gently across the top of the pot to prevent this.  They also look good in a hanging pot.  They like light (South window), course bark around their roots, and have storage pseudobulbs so don’t need as much watering as some others.  Mine are yellow and brown with spots on the skirts.

          My favorite is the Lady slipper (Paphiopedilum) that comes in all colors including black, and sometimes two colors in each bloom with spots and strips.  They are called terrestrial as they grow on the jungle floor, not in soil, but in the leaves etc. This gives a clue that they do not need as much light.  When I see buds I move them to my North window.  I have had the blooms last two months. Needing to be damp all the time, but not wet, cocoanut fibre is loose enough for this.  As with some of the other orchids, if the foliage is yellowish it means too much light.  If a very dark green, there is too little light.

          The easiest one of all to grow is the MOTH ORCHID (Phalaenopsis). It is listed in one book as the longest blooming of two to three months if it doesn’t get too warm.  They grow in the tops of trees but down lower where they do not get as much sun. When the roots come climbing out of the pot and wander around it means things are going well as they can absorb moisture from the humid air which you can make by putting gravel and water under the pot but not high enough for the water to touch the pot. This is called a pebble tray and is very good for most houseplants in our dry homes.

          To stimulate the Moth Orchid to bloom, let them experience a cool period of about 60 degrees F. for three weeks.  They will bloom about the same time every year.  One of mine has a big brown spot on its leaf where it was against the window pane a few nights ago when it got 26 degrees F. outside.  They have big fat, long leaves and seem to be tipping out of the pot.  There are orchid fertilizers available but some of my friends use the long lasting Osmocote.

          Orchids can go outside in the summer if you put them according to their light preference. Some do well hanging in trees but be sure and watch the watering when the temperatures go above 90 degrees F.

          The true vanilla comes from an orchid. In the book “Orchids Simplified” by H. Jaworski, he says “It’s the cured seed pod. The Spaniards found the local Indians mixing it in drinks with another
South American introduction-chocolate.” Remember there are 35,000 different Orchids so you can’t possible run out of new things to learn.

Copyright Dec. 9, 2006