ORCHIDS - are for Everyone

Victorian England saw the start of the European fascination with orchids, although in China they had been revered and cultivated for thousands of years. At the start it was only the rich who could afford these fabulous plants, but now everybody can grow and enjoy them, even those with minimal money or facilities.

In New Zealand during the 1980's many people discovered just how easy it was to grow these spectacular plants with their diverse flowers and long life - some flowers can last for 4 months. Plants became readily available, and many could be obtained for not much more than you could pay for a spike of flowers at the florist. Some plants grow large and take up a lot of room, but there are many that are smaller and suitable for the table or top of the TV, or can be grown on the windowsill. While some need a special glasshouse or protected growing area, many can be easily grown inside the home and become part of the family.

Orchid flowers come in may shapes and sizes. Orchid flowers are naturally pollinated by insects and birds, moths and butterflies, often very specific pollinators for each type. This close relationship between plant and pollinator has over time encouraged the colours, forms and diversity of the flowers we see and enjoy today. Many of the plants we grow are natives of the tropics coming from areas subjected to the hot wet overcast (shaded) summer monsoons. Even this country has its own native orchids, many of which are small and insignificant, but some, such as the 'Greenhoods' - pterostylis - have their own fascination, and there is even a club specialising on these plants.

One of the most satisfying orchids to commencing growing are cymbidiums. Producing a wide range of flower colours, both large and small, the larger plants can be grown on a patio or porch, with the smaller forms making ideal pot plants for inside. Tolerant of a wide rang of conditions, their attractive long lived flowers and grass like foliage will attract attention anywhere. Some have the added feature of a pleasant fragrance. Readily available at moderate cost they will produce their attractive flowers provided they receive cool dryish conditions over winter, with plenty of water and shade, but airy conditions, over summer. Such conditions reflect the natural habitats of most of the cultivated orchids,. Flowers will last 6 to 12 weeks on or off the plant.

If you have limited space in an apartment, then the windowsill orchid - Pleione formosana - will appeal. Producing a profusion of cattleya like flowers from what looks like dried shallots in early spring, a group in a shallow container makes a marvellous table decoration. Available with pink white or yellow flowers, many garden centres will have them available. Dormant over winter, when in growth water well, then fertilise and water the new plants over the summer to produce large bulbs to flower the following year.

The cool growing zygopetalums with their spikes of colourful and generally highly fragrant flowers scent up the whole room. Cool growing like cymbidiums, they are becoming increasing popular.

Most people will be familiar with the chocolate box orchid - cattleyas - widely grown in the United States of America but also found in this country. Requiring warmer conditions than cymbidiums, they are never the less popular although increased care is required to obtain their full potential. The large family contains many plants with flamboyant and colourful flowers, many which also exhibit delightful fragrance.

Paphiopedilums, or the slipper orchids, are also very popular. Some, such as the common P. insigne, can be easily grown with cymbidiums; others are more demanding in their requirements. Both species and advanced hybrids are available, with a wide range of plant forms, sizes, and flower types available to attract growers.

The orchid family is one of the largest of all plant groups, and only a few of the available ones are mentioned here. Some plants are only a few millimetres tall, others are as tall as a man. Some are easy to grow, others require special attention and care. There is a vast amount of information available on the web to whet your appetite. The photo gallery will indicate the range of plants available.

Orchid plants are unusual in that they do not like growing in soil. Most live naturally on trees, or grow in rocks or thick pads of open humus on the forest floor. Most are what are called epiphytes, they grow on trees but use them only for support and do not take nourishment from the host like parasites. They must have plenty of moisture at their roots, but also plenty of air. For this reason special potting mixes are used, the most common being chopped pine bark. The selection of the appropriate mixes, and the procedure for repotting and dividing plants is well covered on the web, together with recommendations for the monthly culture programme. Much more detailed information on these plants is available also on the web for those interested to know more about the wonderful world of orchids.

Orchids are for everyone to grow and enjoy. Once you have fallen under their spell you will be caught for ever.

Site established 9th May 1998