BONNIE’S GARDEN – Orchid Myths, Orchid Truths

Orchids are the largest family of blooming plants in the world with nearly 28,000 naturally occurring species and well over a hundred thousand man-made hybrids. They are also the most highly evolved family of blooming plants. Orchids are native to every continent in the world with the exception of Antarctica.

How Orchids Became Popular

Orchids first became popular when a horticulturist named William Cattley was intrigued by strange bulbous stems used as packing material in a shipment of tropical plants from Brazil. He potted the stems up and in the fall of 1818, the plant bloomed with beautiful large purple flowers.

This orchid was named Cattleya after William Cattleya, Labiata after the ruffled labellum or “lip” of the flower, Autumnalis after the season in which it bloomed.

Unfortunately, this started a mania for orchid collecting from which some tropical forested areas have never recovered. You see, the favorite method for collected these tree-dwelling plants was to cut the tree down just to pluck the plants from it.

Let’s Bust a Myth!

This brings up a myth. Some people believe orchids are parasitic—like mistletoe. But the truth is orchids are NOT parasites—most are epiphytes—“epi” from the Greek word for upon and “phyton” from the Greek word for plant.

Epiphytes are plants that live on other plants but do not send roots down into the plant and take nutrients away, as does a true parasite. Instead, they let their roots “hold” onto a tree branch, like fingers, so the orchids can live up in the treetops where the light and air circulation are better.

Another myth about orchids is that some species are carnivorous. At the International Orchid Exposition in London in the 1930s, it’s said a woman marched up to an exhibitor and demanded to see the man-eating orchid. The quick-thinking exhibitor replied, “I’m sorry, Madam, he’s gone to lunch.”

And yet another myth says that orchids are hard-to-grow. Growing orchids is just like growing any other plant—it’s a matter of learning the requirements and meeting them. Some orchids may have light and/or temperature requirements that may be difficult for you to meet, but then a citrus tree or ficus tree may be difficult for you if you don’t have that sunny spot they crave.

Important Facts to Remember

One important thing to remember is most orchids grow IN TREES. Potting mediums for orchids are always impeccably well-draining because orchids should never sit in standing water.

When you buy one you’ll often find it in a little plastic pot sitting inside a decorative ceramic pot. To keep the plant alive and healthy, take that little plastic pot OUT of the decorative pot to water. Let it drain freely then place it back in the decorative pot. Don’t water it while it’s in the decorative pot as it’s too easy to walk away leaving it sitting in water.

By the way, they sometimes come with directions that tell you to water with three ice cubes. Orchids are native to the tropical rainforest. How often do you think they come in contact with melting frozen water? How about NEVER!

Quick Tips for Orchid Care

Here are some quick tips about caring for these tropical beauties:

Phalaenopsis—they have low broad leaves and are the most common. They need about the same kind of light as does an African violet—about two hours of direct sun BEFORE 10:30 a.m. or AFTER 2:30 p.m.

Cattleyas, Oncidiums, Dendrobiums, etc. need more sun than the phals especially in the winter when the days are short and the sunlight is weak. Three or four hours—before 11:30 a.m. or after 1:30 p.m. is fine. They also need a drop in night temperature of around 10 to 15 degrees to initiate bud formation. During the winter, placing the plant on a sunny windowsill, next to the window will work. When the sun goes down, it gets cooler at night. During the summer, place the orchid outside—under a tree where it gets good dappled sun but no strong beating sun.

There are many other species of orchids with slightly different requirements. If you buy your orchids from an actual garden center, they can give you specific care instructions. Or, at least, buy an orchid with a name tag so you can look it up. I recommend (the American Orchid Society).

Because orchids are native to the tropical rainforest where the humidity is 80% and our houses average about 10%, humidity is something we all need to work on. If you have a number of plants, running a cool-mist humidifier is great. If that’s not feasible, then mist lightly two to three times a day. Remember, misting is “fogging.” Put your mister on a fine spray and spray the air over and around the plant. Don’t spray directly on the foliage.

Orchids do need to be fed but, because they leave in trees and never ever live in nutrient-rich soil, feed LIGHTLY. The American Orchid Society recommends 20-20-20 HALF-strength, HALF as often as the label says.

We’re Here to Help You Choose Those “Just Right” Orchids

Stop by the Great Big Greenhouse and let us help you choose the very best orchids for your home. If you have any questions about growing your orchids, that’s what we’re here for!

To read more posts from Bonnie, visit our blog

10 thoughts on “BONNIE’S GARDEN – Orchid Myths, Orchid Truths”

  1. Hi Cheryl–Yes, orchids need to be repotted! Because, in the wild, they live in trees, they NEVER EVER have decaying organic debris packed around their roots. I repot mine every year!

    We don’t want to ever cut off a live actively growing root (the white ones with the greenish tips). When an orchid starts growing a lot of new roots OUT of the pot, they often do so because the potting has broken down and is cutting off air circulation to the roots.

    Bring yours in to me and I’ll be glad to repot them for you.

  2. Bonnie, I would love that! I have 3 that were all gifts to me… two are probably 4 or 5 years old and one is a year old. I apparently have a great kitchen area where they thrive and bloom often, but I have never fed them or repotted them. How do I make an appointment with you? Thanks!

  3. Hello Bonnie,

    I understand you are an Orchid expert so can you give me some advice. I have almost 10 healthy orchids and after my wife put them on a table next to window that take lots of sun light early last Fall they did well and growing with lots of roots and having healthy leaves but no sign of stem that bring flowers. She feed them with orchid food once a month and puts some ice around the pots once a week. Any idea why they don’t bloom?


    • Most orchids bloom ONCE a year–fall/winter–if conditions are right. Sounds like they’re getting good light. However, orchids are native to the TROPICAL rainforest–they never ever come into contact with melting frozen water! Water them with tepid or room temperature water only. When you do water, be sure it runs through the potting medium and out the bottom. Never allow to stand in water longer than 10 minutes or so. Since they need to go into fresh potting medium every year or so, bring them to me and I can repot them for you and see if I see any problems.

  4. Bonnie
    I love orchids! But my blossoms dropped quickly and progressively this winter. I now have three orchids with no blooms and two others with diminishing blooms. Some have a few buds still on them. Can I bring them in to you for advice?

  5. I would like some info on small bamboo plant you see in stores – I just received one from a friend who didn’t want it.

  6. Hi Lois–you are now the proud owner of Lucky Bamboo–actually not really a bamboo but a dracaena sanderiana. If it is growing in water, replace the water every week or two. They like decent light so a bright spot is great–just no direct sunlight.

    They will live for quite a while in water but their longest life is potted in soil. If this one is potted in soil, then allow the soil to dry out partly between watering, just not bone-dry.

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