Phalaenopsis

Phalaenopsis

This is probably the single most common orchid found in the United States. It’s easy to propagate commercially through meristem cloning, comes in an incredible variety of sizes and colors, has blooms that last anywhere from weeks to a number of months, requires little in the way of specialized care, and is ideally suited to what would be considered normal house temperatures in the U.S. It is commonly and colloquially referred to as a “Moth Orchid.”


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As with many genus’ of orchids, Phals grow in an incredible range of sizes. This is a very small Phal, probably no more than 5″ or 6″ from the end of one leaf to the end of the opposing leaf on the other side. These Phals will stay this size. They will bloom with flowers that are appropriately scaled to the plant, maybe 2″ across. I don’t know why, but I have had a harder time keeping these really small Phals healthy and happy than the larger plants.  They are cute, but I tend to avoid purchasing them outright. This one happens to have been a gift. I immediately repotted it (gifts tend to be orchids that need some TLC, as did this. So far, so good. It looks healthy and happy.

This is what I would call a “medium” sized Phal. It’s probably about one foot across from the end of one leaf to the end of the opposing leaf. This tends to be the most common size, at least in my collection. When I’ve purchased a Phal that I liked that was in this size range, they tend to stay in this size range. Some of my Phals are ten and more years old, they bloom regularly, but just don’t change in size. They are simply repotted periodically. Notice one other thing about this plant. The raceme, or flower spike, that it has thrown off is very long and needs to be supported. I have an unobtrusive green colored stake in the pot and have the raceme clipped to it gently to support it. When the flowers open, especially when there is a spray of as many as 5 or 6 or more blooms on on spike, they tend to get pretty heavy. Also, when they are getting close to opening, I check carefully for scale. Scale tends to be attracted to Phals during the blooming season for some reason and I’d rather spray the entire plant with dormant oil before the flowers open if it’s going to be necessary.

Some Phals are very large plants. This one was already on the larger size when I first purchased it probably around 10 years or so ago. It was being sold by an orchid grower at a local show.  It was clear the person was a hobby grower as opposed to a commercial grower, because the stake included with the plant was hand-written. All of the commercial establishments I’ve purchased orchids from over the years use stakes clearly printed with all of the information for the plant in question. However the data provided appeared to be accurate, including the complete information on the cross in question. I’ve researched the cross on the Internet and found  similar sized Phals with very large growth habit and very prolific
Phil Queen Hampton ‘Playhouse’ x P Taisuco Kaaladian ‘Pom’

spikes of huge predominantly white flowers, as this one throws off. The bottom line is, it was about the size of one of my mid-sized orchids when first purchased (so it was probably a young plant – perhaps grown out from a starter in a flask), but it continued to grow. It is now a HUGE plant, probably a full 2 feet across from the end of one leaf to the end of the opposing leaf. It’s an incredibly healthy plant and unbelievably prolific. Its flowers are a good 4″ or more across and there are often 5 or 6 or more on a spike. In short, it’s a beautiful plant whether in bloom or not. This particular photo was taken about 2 years ago when it had 9 blooms on one spike. It was spectacular.

WATER: Water regularly, twice per week, by taking to a sink and pouring water through the bark to saturate it. Let it drain and replace in its normal setting. Is not particularly susceptible to damage from chlorine, so normal tap water is fine.

Phil Queen Hampton ‘Playhouse’ x P Taisuco Kaaladian ‘Pom’

LIGHT: Cannot take harsh, direct sun. Is typically considered a “moderate” light orchid, but will survive for long periods of time in lower light, and with care, can take even some direct sun as long as a) it’s not too close to the window and b) it be provided morning or evening sun – never the harsh direct sunlight of mid-day. This plant will “tell you” if it’s getting too much light. The edges of the leaves will start taking on a reddish hue. Simply move to lower light.

MEDIA: Grown in coarse orchid bark. Should be repotted once per year, every two years at the most.

TEMPERATURE RANGE: Normal household temperature ranges.Should not be exposed to any temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit or higher than the mid-80s.

CARE: Easy to care for. No trimming required except for trimming the roots lightly when repotting. Phalaenopsis will grow by adding the occasional new leaf to the top of the plant and occasionally losing the lowest leaf. When the lowest leaf dies, this is absolutely normal and nothing to worry about. The lower dying leaf may be cut off for cosmetic purposes or may be left until it falls off on its own (which it will do, if left long enough).
Phil Sogo Vivien

BLOOMING: With care and regular feeding (see “Feeding” page), this plant should very regularly bloom at least annually. Occasionally Phals. (as they are known) will bloom twice in one year. After the flowers die, cut off the flower stem/spike just ABOVE the very first node from the body of the plant. If this remaining stem dies, cut it off as close as reasonably possible to the plant. If this stem stays viable (alive), leave it alone and resume regular watering and plant care. As likely as not, when it re-blooms it can through off new growth at the site of this first node as it is to start a new flower spike from the main portion of the plant. Sometimes Phals throw off small clusters of flowers, maybe 2 or 3 at at time. Other times they throw off incredible clusters of flowers as in this example.

REPOTTING: Phaleanopsis should be repotted in orchid bark annually. When repotting, the roots may be trimmed modestly to remove dead, dying, or unhealthy roots, primarily to clean up the root system and/or to make additional room in the pot so that the plant can be repotted in the same pot. One thing to be particularly aware of with Phals. Due to their growth habit, they continually add new leaves to the growth tip and so continue (slowly) to elongate. The result is that the occasional lower leaf dies. In the beginning, I worried when I saw leaves dying on my Phals. Then I realized this is simply their growth habit. In fact, you’ll first see the edges of one of the lowest leaves (typically the actual lower-most, but not always) will turn yellow. Over time the leaf will continue to turn yellow, eventually drying and dying to the point where it will literally fall off in your hand. This is absolutely normal. As the lowest leaves die, replaced with new leaves at the growth tip, the plant also throws off new roots from the junctions of leaves with the center stem, typically also low down on the plant. When you repot it, simply put many/most of those new roots in the pot and lower it to compensate for the fact that the lowest leaf or leaves have died off.

Here is a Phal with all the right ingredients. The lowest leaf is turning yellow and getting ready to die off. There are lots of new roots emerging from the joints of the lowest leaves with the stem. There is a good, healthy leaf emerging from the top of the plant, and there is a healthy new flower spike emerging from near the base of the plant. All is right in the world for this Phal. It will simply be planted a little deeper next time, after the lower leaf has dropped (I occasionally trim them near the base if aesthetics are an issue – the remaining stub will still die and fall off naturally). I will wait until after it has bloomed before I repot probably late fall/early winter before the next flower spike develops. As is my personal preference, when I repot I will also position the plant truly upright and centered in the pot. Phal. growth habit is to always be top-heavy and tend to tip to one side as they grow. Nothing wrong with that. I simply find them more aesthetically pleasing (and take up less room on the shelf!) when they are upright.