Mar 012009

An orchid tree is a variation on mounting orchids, except you’re putting many orchids on a branch or branches to give it a completely natural look. The concept can be used in those areas of the country where orchids can be grown outdoors most of the year, but must be protected from a few frosts during the winter months; or if you are lucky enough to have a large enough greenhouse, brought inside during the colder winter months. It would also work wonderfully under lights in an alcove or under stairs area that proves to be a difficult place to decorate.
To start out, you must select the base for your tree, or build a wire mesh and cover it with cork. Remember that if you’re going to be moving the structure it cannot be too heavy. And you will need to make sure that it will not topple over when planted. Generally a tripod arrangement will ensure enough stability.

Attach the larger plants to the bottom for aesthetic reasons and the smallest on the upper portions. Think of the size of the branches on a tree, the largest are at the bottom and the smallest at the top. This will also provide extra weight at the bottom to balance the weight of the structure.

When choosing plants, be sure to try to pick out plants that will require similar light, temperature and humidity conditions. Depending on how you place your orchid tree, some will obviously get more light than others. Be aware of this when you start arranging the plants you wish to mount. Another factor to consider is flowering times. Do you want all your plants flowering at the same time, or several flowering at the same time throughout the year? And of course, the most fun of all, how are you going to arrange the different colors on the tree?

If possible soak the structure overnight before adding plants, otherwise wet it thoroughly with a hose. Take your plants from their pots, clip off any dead or brown roots and clean up the plants by removing dead sheaths, and back bulbs. Position the plants around the tree and if you want tie them on with a string until you’re satisfied with the arrangement. Then mount as you would any orchid on a mount with sphagnum moss attached with fishing wire against the structure. Then tie on your plant being careful not to cut into the pseudobulbs or roots. I prefer putting a bit of sphagnum on top of the roots too to provide extra moisture to the plants during hot periods. Continue mounting until all your plants are situated as you want them.

Mist thoroughly and place in a humid shaded area for two weeks to a month in order to allow the plants to accustom themselves to their new home. Mist every other day and water as you would any other mounted plant. Gradually move into a sunnier area over the course of about a week as you would for any other orchid.

Mar 012009

by Susan Taylor
Originally published in BellaOnline

These cute little miniatures are found from Florida through Bolivia and most of the Caribbean Islands. There are currently about ten species listed and most of them are twig epiphytes or tree growing orchids which need higher light and very quick drying conditions. It is listed as endangered by the USDA so if you ever see one in the wild you are very lucky.

They are similar in growth habit to Tolumnia and need much the same conditions. In general they are warm to hot growing and need year round water and fertilizer to encourage blooming in late spring and during the summer months. As you could see from the pictures, this little plant will put on a spectacular show from a mature plant when well grown. Most people grow it mounted on tree fern or cork so that he flowers can be well displayed as the branched inflorescences fall with the weight of the flowers. As with others that grow in this manner, watch out for spider mites and scale insects as they can hide in the crevasse and can kill the plants quickly.

The three main species grown are Ionopsis utricularioides, Ionopsis satyrioide and Ionopsis paniculata. There is some disagreement as to whether the last is a synonym (or the same species) as utricularioides but the flowering habit is different enough that we’ll address them separately here.

The most spectacular, without doubt, is Ionopsis utricularioides . It can be found from Mexico through Central America and occasionally on the Caribbean Islands and in South Florida. The flowers range from white to dark purple depending upon the cultivar. The branched inflorescence can reach three feet (or approximately 90 centimeters) with a hundred flowers. They are generally grown on small mounts and needs somewhat more shade than the Tolumnias. They need very good air circulation and high humidity year round. Intermediate temperature conditions of 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit, or 26-29 Centigrade, are recommended with a cooling at night of approximately 15 degrees Fahrenheit, or 9.5 Centigrade. The flowers are considered to be long blooming and will provide you with a great show. This is a plant that can be grown in Wardian cases since it remains in the 6 inch or 15 centimeter size range.

Ionopsis satyrioide has a smaller and less spectacular flowering habit, but you can easily see where the name “Violet Orchid” came from when you see it flowering. The flower is generally white with pink or purple striping. Culture is similar to utricularioides.

Mar 012009

by Susan Taylor
Originally published in BellaOnline

Goodyera daibuzanensis is one of the popularly called Jewel Orchids known for their lovely foliage rather than for their flowers which are generally not very interesting, picture of flower. Terrarium enthusiasts use this and many other Jewel Orchid plants to add leaf color and variety to their generally plain green environments much as gardeners use outdoor plants for the same purpose.

Jewel orchids are distributed widely throughout Southeast Asia, North and South America, and Australia. They are generally terrestrial in nature, growing in leaf mold in forested areas. They are spreading plants so can be placed directly in medium in a terrarium and they will quickly spread to provide a great show. Many jewel orchids will grow when just one piece is broken off and placed in appropriate medium and these babies can be given to friends for them to enjoy.

The various sp species are found around the world, some even in the northern US where they are known to as “Rattlesnake Plantain.” Most species are native to India, Sri Lanka, Japan, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Goodyera daibuzanensis is found only on Taiwan, where it is quite common in mountainous forests between 800 and 2,000 meters where it will receive a good deal of rain. It is one of the smallest of the Jewel Orchids, with leaves only 2 inches, or 5 centimeters, long. The leaves grow in a really pretty rosette fashion which shows the silver and green striping and mottling to advantage. The flower inflorescences will grow to 10 inches, or 25 centimeters, high with small white flowers which are presented with a spiral around the stem.

Grow this little orchid in a terrarium with high humidity among other similar plants. Provide good air circulation to combat the formation of mold or bacterial problems. They require low light conditions which make them very easy to maintain in a home environment. Too much light will bleach their leaves to dull colors and you will lose the lovely contrast and velvety texture for which these plants are so prized. Many terrarium growers will simply cut off any inflorescences since they are often too big for a small container and are not at all showy.

To learn more about growing in a terrarium, Growing Orchids in a Terrarium or Wardian Case. This is a form of growing that is becoming more and more popular today. An excellent source for Jewel Orchids is Hoosier Orchids.

Mar 012009

By Ron McHatton
AOS Director of Education January 2009
Copyright 2008 American Orchid Society

More or chids are killed by incorrect watering than by any other reason. There are two separate components to proper watering; when and how. The vast majority of orchids grown by hobby growers are epiphytes, growing on trees above the ground where the light is more plentiful. These plants are adapted to having their roots exposed to light and air so in addition to water, orchid roots need air. The central core of an epiphytic orchid root is covered with a spongy material called velamen designed to store water. When this spongy material remains wet too long, the central core suffocates and begins to rot. Once the roots begin to rot, the plant can no longer take up water properly and a whole host of problems begin. At worst, root rot will spread upward into the rhizome and cause the death of the plant. In other cases, the loss of roots prevents the plant from  absorbing sufficient water to maintain the plant in good condition and the leaves will take on a wrinkled appearance. Unfortunately, the symptoms of over-watering and under-watering are superficially similar and the tendency is to increase watering rather than inspect the roots.  Overwatered roots will be brown and mushy while those on under-watered plants will be white or gray and obviously dry. Let’s look first at when to water.

When do I water?
Orchids should be watered just as they dry out. This rule applies to all orchids with slight variations depending on whether your plant has pseudobulbs (thickened stems that are designed to store water) or not. Orchids such as cattleyas and oncidiums should be allowed to just dry completely between waterings while orchids such as phalaenopsis and vandas that have no water storage organs should be watered just before dryness occurs. For vandas, this may mean daily watering during the warm summer months. Vandas and ascocendas that are properly
watered will have actively growing root tips at all times. If the root tips on your plants dry up and seal over, you are not watering often enough. There’s unfortunately no magic formula; i.e., water a plant in a 6” pot every 7 days and you’ll be trouble free. This is because your growing area is different from anyone else’s. Humidity, air movement, potting medium (type and age) and light levels all play a role. There are several ways to determine when a potted orchid is almost dry: 1) the surface of the potting mix will appear dry; 2) dry pots will feel lighter when lifted; 3) clay pots feel dry; 4) a wooden stake or skewer inserted into the potting mix will come out almost dry. If in doubt, a finger inserted into the potting mix is perhaps the best tool to determine the moisture content of the potting mix. It will cause no harm to the plant. And remember, fresh potting mix will always dry out faster than the old medium.

How do I water?
How to water is just as important to proper culture as when to water. When orchids are watered, they should be watered copiously. Water should be provided until it runs freely from the drainage holes. This serves several functions. First, thorough, copious watering is necessary to soak the potting medium. In addition, thorough watering helps to flush away the salts that naturally accumulate in the potting medium from the dissolved salts in our water supplies and the fertilizers applied for good growth. Also, this is your opportunity to examine how the potting mix behaves. If you cannot pour water rapidly through the pot, the potting mix is too dense and you run the risk of starving the roots for air. If you see finely divided material that looks like coffee grounds in the water coming from the drainage holes, your potting mix is breaking down and it’s time to repot into fresh medium. At a minimum, try to thoroughly water your plants at least once a month. Finally a couple of notes about mounted plants and those like vandas that are grown in baskets without additional potting medium. First, avoid dunking these plants in buckets of water. This practice very easily spreads diseases. If one plant has a disease, all those dunked in the same bucket of water will have been exposed as well. Also, two short waterings a few minutes apart are much more effective than one long watering. Once water runs off the plant, the roots will have absorbed essentially all they can at that time and excess water simply runs off to the ground. The proper technique is to water your plants and then a few minutes later water them again, always beginning with the first plant you watered. This allows time for the roots of the last plant watered to finish absorbing water before you wet them again. Roots that are completely saturated will be a solid color while those that are not will appear mottled.