Monthly Archives: December 2011

In the Greenhouse, Part One

phalaenopsis orchid Phalaenopsis is a genus of Orchids containing about 60 species. They are one of the most popular orchid types grown for the horticultural trade and collected by hobby orchid growers. The name Phalaenopsis is thought to be a reference to the genus Phalaena, a group of large moths– the flowers of some species supposedly resemble moths in flight. They are native throughout tropical southeast Asia.

phalaenopsis orchidThe native habitat of many Phalaenopsis orchids is below the canopy of moist and humid lowland forests. Because they are naturally found in areas out of direct sunlight, they are adaptable to home environments and one of the easier orchids to grow, with a little care. Phalaenopsis will thrive in a east window, or a shaded southerly or westerly exposure. They also will do well under grow lights. They do not require or like direct sunlight! They were among the first tropical orchids collected in the Victorian era, when glass conservatories and tropical house plants became popular.

phalaenopsis orchidPhalaenopsis can be grown in most orchid potting media, including sphagnum moss, chunks of pine bark, clay aggregate pellets, charcoal, or perlite.They can also be grown in hanging baskets or mounted on slabs in a greenhouse-type environment. As with all epiphytic orchids, they should be planted in free-draining containers. Try to keep the potting media slightly damp. During the growing season, water the plant when nearly dry, but not completely dry. This could be as often as every 2-3 days in the heat of summer and as little as every ten days during the winter, when days are shorter and light is even lower.

Being tropical, Phalaenopsis like temperatures between about 75 and 85 degrees, but they can adapt to a normal house temperature of 65 to 70 degrees. Flower initiation is controlled by daytime temperatures declining below 80 °F, although temperatures exceeding 84 °F will inhibit flowering.The higher the temperature, the greater the plant’s need for humidity.  Setting the pots on trays of pebbles filled with water can be helpful in increasing the humidity around the plant.

phal with pebblesThe flowers come in a range of colors, especially given that there are thousands of artificial hybrids available in addition to the naturally occurring species. There are pure white “Moon” orchids, striped ones in orange and red, speckled ones, and many shades of pink, lavender, yellow, and even green. In the Northern Hemisphere, Phalaenopsis usually bloom in winter and early spring, and the flowers can last for weeks (but fumes from cigarettes, cars, even gas stoves can cause buds and blossoms to drop prematurely). has great, labeled pictures of the incredible variety of Phalaenopsis species.

speckled phal. orchid

I found a “Fascinating Fact” in the Wikipedia article titled “Phalaenopsis”:

Phalaenopsis are not only outstanding in their beauty, but also unique in that in some species, the flowers turn into green leaves after pollination. As in many other plants, the petals of the orchid flowers serve to attract pollinating insects and protect essential organs. Following pollination, petals will usually undergo senescense (i.e. wilt and disintegrate) because it is metabolically expensive to maintain them. In many Phalaenopsis species such as P.violacea, the petals and sepals find new uses following pollination and thus escape programmed cell death. By producing chloroplasts, they turn green, become fleshy and apparently start to photosynthesize, just like leaves.

Very efficient!