by Joelle Steele
There is no flower more beautiful, more magnificent than the orchid. The numerous genera in the family Orchidaceae originate primarily in the tropical and subtropical areas of Asia, Africa, South America, and the South Pacific islands although there are some epiphytic genera found at high altitudes in cool conditions as well.
The orchid genera we encounter most frequently in the interiorscape are: Cattleya (Corsage orchid) (pronounced cat'-lay-uh), Phalaenopsis (Moth orchid), Paphiopedilum (Lady slipper orchid), Dendrobium, and Cymbidium.
There are many other orchids that are commercially available, however, it would take too much room to list them all and the ones I just listed are available almost everywhere.
Contrary to popular belief, orchids do not require greenhouse conditions to bloom and thrive. Normal daytime temperatures in the range of 65 to 75 degrees F is just fine and night time should be about 10 to 15 degrees lower but not less than about 55 degrees F. Most air-conditioning systems provide adequate temperature conditions.
Light is important, especially for species with pseudobulbs (swollen stems that store food and water). They require about 1,500fc or more for at least five or six hours per day in order to bloom. Most orchids can bloom and do well with 10 to 15 hours of moderate light.
In general it is best to water with tepid water and keep the soil or bark moist but never soaking wet as the roots will rot, particularly those of the epiphytic species. A tray of gravel partially filled with water will help maintain the humidity required by your orchid. As a rule the orchids with pseudobulbs should be watered more frequently when they are bloom. With most species you should cut back the water once the orchid has finished flowering.
The media in which your orchid is potted will vary according to the original grower and the individual needs of each species. Osmunda fiber or ground bark are excellent for epiphytic varieties but some species require shredded fir bark and peat for better water retention.
When feeding your orchids try not to get carried away. There are several commercial fertilizers just for orchids and you should use them and follow the directions on the bottle, box, or tub. If you orchids are growing in bark they may be nitrogen deficient and a supplemental liquid nitrogen fertilizer may be necessary.
Brown spots on leaves are caused by too much direct sun and are not usually caused by disease. But, if your orchid has not been in direct sun you should suspect trouble and isolate it or discard it. Yellow leaves usually occur from overwatering or too much sun though there are some species which are deciduous. If the leaves or flowers appear to be wilting prematurely it could be due to overwatering or insufficient light or a combination of the two.
The flowers on orchids can last for several days or several weeks depending on the species so don't panic if your plant appears to be "spent" in two weeks. It may just be that particular species. Before you buy that gorgeous lavender and fuchsia orchid about which you know absolutely nothing, ask your grower for specifics on its care and the longevity of the flowers. If you grower gives you general information, buy a detailed book on the care of orchids. A detailed source is a worthwhile investment if you use orchids regularly as color accents in your interiorscapes.
SELECTING & TRANSPORTING AN ORCHID
When you purchase an orchid look for one that has many buds and only one or two flowers open. Do not ignore the condition of the leaves or the roots. The leaves should be, for the majority of species, sturdy and true to their color, whatever that may be. And there are some orchid leaves that are variegated or are silvery grey-green in color, etc.
Transport your orchid carefully and be sure that the spike is securely attached to the wire or bamboo support. Do not leave orchids in your hot van or car for more than an hour, especially if they are not moist. They may appear fine when you install them but could drop their buds or flowers within forty-eight hours.
This article last updated: 05/19/1993.