As one of the first orchid species to be described over 250 years ago, the Phalaenopsis has not always been known as such. Over two centuries the orchid has continued to mesmerise its founders and admirers with its large swollen petals spread wide giving rise to a long history of differing naming conventions but all with one common notion – its moth-like appearance.
The orchid was first discovered in 1750 by German-Dutch botanist, Georg Eberhard Rumphius, who dubbed the spectacular flower, Angraecum albus majus (Reference pls?). In 1752, a Swedish explorer and botanist named Peter Osbeck, allegedly gave the flower its common reference the “moth orchid” as during his voyage to China he mistook a gathering of orchids for a “flurry of moths.” The specimen that he collected on his journey would later be renamed in 1753 as Epidendrum amabile by the father of modern Taxonomy - Swedish botanist and zoologist, Carl Linnaeus.
These archaic discoveries remained largely undisclosed until botanist, Carl Ludwig Blume characterised the flower in 1825 as a looking as though “a large group of moths were in flight.” Today the genus is commonly referred to as Phalaenopsis - “phal”, meaning moth, and “opsis” meaning appearance.
The orchid has a large following of devoted fans that are in awe of its moth-like appearance. Its spectacular shape as well as its vast colour palette has been the topic of much conversation since its modern-day discovery and has been the chosen-trimming for many special events.
There are well over 60 varieties of Phalaenopsis Orchids in common cultivation, with hybrid cultivators pushing this number to over 25 000 variations. From solid to dotted and striped hues and patterns, the Phalaenopsis’ colour range includes: white, pink, lavender and yellow and with the constant introduction of new hybrids the moth orchid bursts into a whole new colour dimension.
This genus is monopodial which means that the Phalaenopsis’ colour display of petals spray across a single stem. With each new spike originating from the apex of the stalk the Moth Orchid has an unlimited growth in stem which attributes a unique characteristic. Unlike other common orchid species, the Phalaenopsis awards its owner the privilege of being able to enjoy its bloom more than once. If taken care of, this wondrous flower will bloom for three to four months and once dormant in flower the orchid will replenish the needed nutrients and revitalise to grow a new stem from the old spike.
In knowing how to care for and nurture your Phalaenopsis you ensure a timeless bond with the flower as it continues to bloom each year. Did you know that the Moth orchid is epiphytic? This means that this particular orchid does not root itself in soil, instead it grows harmlessly upon other plants and derives its nutrients and moisture from the air. Mimicking this environment for your orchid at home will ensure that you get the most from this unique floral creation.
How to Grow (South Africa)
Phalaenopsis enjoy low light and must be protected from direct, unfiltered sun. A brightly lit room out of direct sun is recommended. If your plant does not want to re-flower, you might have to increase the amount of light it receives. Leave color is a good indicator whether your plant is getting sufficient light – it should be olive green. Red tinged leaves or yellow green leaves - too much light and dark green leaves to little light.
Water is especially critical for Phalaenopsis as their leaves are the main water-storage organs. A good tip is to keep the roots just damp but the leaves as dry as possible. This means thoroughly water the plant and let the mix nearly dry out before watering again. After watering, leaves should dry off as quickly as possible by placing plants in a breezy spot for an hour or two after watering. Excess water in the crown of the plant where the leaves join can be removed with tissue which will help prevent rot.
Phalaenopsis must be considered as an indoor plant in South Africa needing relatively stable temperatures, which fall almost perfectly within the comfort zone you enjoy inside your house.
A minimum temperature of 12 degrees Celsius and a maximum of 30 degrees Celsius is optimal, however plants will tolerate temperatures down to 5 degrees Celsius and high day temperatures up to 35 degrees Celsius for short periods. Please remember that temperatures close to windows on a windowsill will be colder or hotter than your general house temperature.
Phalaenopsis require medium to high humidity, not just to grow well but also for the flowers to last and not to have bud drop. To help improve humidity, place plant on a saucer of gravel, wet the gravel but be sure the base of the pot is above the water level. Evaporation of the water as the temperature rises will help increase humidity. Misting plants will also help. A word of caution – air conditioners will dry out the air in the room which will lower the humidity which will dry out the plant and shorten the life of the flowers.
When flowers have withered, cut the flower stem off just about 3~5 cm from the body.
Foliar feed fertilizer is recommended for optimal growth and flowering. Follow instructions according to flowering and growing cycle of your plant. Phalaenopsis are very rewarding plants to grow and flowers last up to 12 weeks.
Your potting mix as well as the weather and season will determine how often you water your plant, sphagnum moss has a much greater capacity to retain water than bark and fine coconut peat tends to stay damp very long because of the particle size of the mix.
Pests and diseases include Mealy bug and fugal as well as bacterial rot. For advise contact our nearest orchid shop or orchid society.