Variations of the beautiful Moth Orchid.

The beautiful Moth Orchid is easy to grow and is long-lasting, writes Elaine Yim

MANY of us decorate our homes with flower arrangements or bring flower bouquets as gifts when visiting family and friends during festive occasions.

A good option is the Phalaenopsis orchids, native to our country.

There are many varieties and flower colours to choose from. The flowers are elegant and graceful. The blooms can last from two to three months.

The Phalaenopsis orchid is very easy to grow and to maintain, even for beginners.

The Phalaenopsis consists of more than 50 species of flowering and fragrant orchids mostly native to Southeast Asia. A few species are native to Taiwan, India and Australia.

Phalaenopsis was first discovered and described by botanist G.E. Rumphius in Indonesia in 1750 under the genus Angracum. In 1753, Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus reclassified it under Epidendrum. In 1825, a new genus was created by botanist Carl Ludwig Blume, who named it Phalaenopsis.

The name is derived from the Greek word phalaino for moth and opsis for appearance. Blume had mistaken the flowers for a group of white moths in flight when he first saw the orchid through his binoculars during a field trip.

The moth orchid is called Hu Die Lan in Chinese and Mariposa in the Philippines, both meaning Butterfly Orchid. In Malay, it is Anggerik Bulan, meaning Moon Orchid.

The name “orchid” is derived from the Greek word orchis, meaning testicles because some species have twin tuberoids on their roots.

THE PLANT

Phalaenopsis orchids are mostly epiphytes. Their natural habitat are lowland tropical rainforest jungles near rivers and streams. They are found perched on trees where they thrive under the heavy shade of the forest canopy protected from the harsh sunlight. The environment is moist, cool and humid. A few species are lithophytes which grow on rocky terrain.

Phalaenopsis are monopodial orchids with large fleshy leaves and a very short upright stem. They do not have pseudo-bulbs to store water. Water is stored in the thick leaves and roots. There are small nodes at the base of the plant which are dormant most of the time but occasionally may sprout new shoots called basal keiki which will develop into a new plant. The flowers are very showy and borne in a long, arching spike that arises from the base of the matured lower leaves. Each flower spike has about 15-30 flowers.

In Malaysia, the known jungle varieties are Phalaenopsis amabilis with pure white flowers, P. cornu-cervi with yellow flowers and P. violacea with violet flowers.

All are fragrant. Cross-fertilisation between species and mass hybridisation by horticulturists have produced many hardy hybrids with different colour variations for cultivation. When new hybrids are discovered, and if you are willing to pay the price, you can even name it after your loved ones. The mutated forms have variegated leaves and more stunning flowers.

HOW TO GROW

It can be grown in a hanging pot or transparent (not black) plastic containers with drainage holes. You can also tie them to a tree or piece of wood. Temperatures should be 20-32°C during the day and, preferably, 15-22°C at night.

TIP

Phalaenopsis can be stimulated to flower by a fall in night temperatures to below 21˚C for two weeks. Try placing the plant in an air-conditioned room. The flower spikes take about three months to develop.

HOW TO GROW THEM

Propagation. You can buy a healthy potted plant from nurseries. It can also be propagated by keikies.

Sunlight. Grow in shade or dappled sunlight with 70 per cent light intensity. It can be grown in locations with low light intensity, under indoor florescent lighting and by the balcony or window sill. Grow in a bright location but avoid direct sunlight as excessive sunlight will scorch the leaves. Under optimum lighting, the leaves are light green and hard while dark, soft leaves indicate inadequate lighting.

Medium. Potting medium can be charcoal, red bricks or sphagnum moss. Container must have holes as good drainage is important. Nowadays, it is common to find moth orchids grown in sphagnum moss in plastic containers.

Water. Water in the morning so that the leaves and roots can dry properly. Watering at night may run the risk of diseases. Do not water the flowers. Do not water during hot afternoon sun. Do not water when sphagnum moss is still wet.

Fertilise. Use a foliar spray or slow-release organic pellets. Spray onto the lower leaf surfaces and roots. Use half the recommended dosage. Fertilise in the morning after watering.

Pruning. Remove dead flowers and diseased leaves. After flowering, cut back along the spent flower spike at the location of the first faded flower. A side flower spike may open in about 3½ months.

Pest and diseases. Remove diseased parts and keep away from other plants. Treat with organic neem oil.

Humidity and ventilation. Grows best in humid and well-ventilated locations. When the air is dry, wet the surrounding area. Too damp conditions will invite disease.

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