August orchid of the Month: Waling-waling, the queen of Philippine flowers

Wild and natural form of the waling-waling orchid flower. (Manila Bulletin Agriculture)


The waling-waling orchid, scientifically known as Vanda sanderiana, is a stunning and highly prized orchid species native to the Philippines. Also referred to as the “Queen of Philippine Flowers,” the waling-waling orchid is renowned for its exceptional beauty and unique characteristics.

Wild and natural form of the waling-waling orchid flower. (Manila Bulletin Agriculture)

The waling-waling orchid typically blooms during the months of June to August, although there may be some variations in blooming periods depending on specific growing conditions and environmental factors. This period is considered the peak flowering season for the waling-waling orchid.

The waling-waling orchid exhibits various forms, each with its unique charm. The froebeliana variety showcases a dark coloration while the albata exhibit lighter hues with purplish markings. Additionally, there is the alba, which was artificially induced through intensive inbreeding in Hawaii, resulting in green and yellow forms. The diversity of waling-waling varieties contributes to its immense popularity among orchid enthusiasts.

Waling-waling orchid flowers with yellow, green, and white is the alba form which came about with intense breeding efforts in Hawaii in the 1950s. (Manila Bulletin Agriculture)

This orchid species has a monopodial growth habit, meaning it grows vertically, with a single stem that produces leaves and flowers along its length. The leaves are long, narrow, and leathery, providing an elegant backdrop to the remarkable blooms.

Due to its beauty, the waling-waling orchid has become a foundation for breeding programs. Its bloodline has been utilized to develop other vanda orchids with desirable traits such as vigorous growth and large, round flowers. While the waling-waling’s own flower characteristics may not be strongly inherited by its progenies, its robust vegetative properties are often passed down.

Papilionanda Antonio Puyat orchid is an example of the heavy influence of waling waling in orchid breeding. (Manila Bulletin Agriculture)

The waling-waling orchid is indigenous to the foothills of Mount Apo in the province of Davao, located on the island of Mindanao. While the waling-waling orchid’s natural range is predominantly in Davao, it can also be found in other regions of Mindanao such as Maguindanao, South Cotabato, and possibly Basilan.

Cultivation and care

As a tropical flower, the waling-waling orchid flourishes in warm environments and does not thrive in cool climates. It has been extensively propagated, leading to a significant global population. However, its rarity is still recognized due to the challenges of finding it in its natural habitat, mainly due to intensive collection and poaching. To cultivate waling-waling successfully, understanding its specific requirements is crucial.

Waling-waling orchids prefer bright, indirect sunlight, mimicking their natural habitat under the shade of trees. Care should be taken to prevent direct exposure to sunlight during the summer months, which can lead to leaf burning. Adequate watering is vital, considering its tropical origins. Daily watering is recommended, especially in regions with high humidity. The root tips should appear fleshy, green, or purple, indicating sufficient hydration. Watering should be done before 4 PM to allow excess water to evaporate, reducing the risk of diseases and root rot.

The alba form of waling-waling orchid. (Manila Bulletin Agriculture)

Providing the waling-waling orchid with proper nutrition is essential for its healthy growth. Regular fertilizer application during watering, once a week, helps supply essential nutrients. Additionally, ensuring adequate air circulation is crucial. Spacing individual waling-waling plants apart prevents the spread of diseases, and the leaves should not touch each other, allowing free airflow.

Waling-waling orchids naturally grow on tree trunks, making it beneficial to provide a potting medium for them to cling onto, such as wood or bark. While they can survive without a medium, their survival is more reliant on careful watering and regular fertilizer application, as they have no alternative moisture source. Utilizing potting media can encourage keiki production and reduce maintenance efforts. Keiki is an offshoot plant that develops on the stem or base of the parent orchid. However, for those with limited resources and space, hanging the orchid using wire or vanda baskets with charcoal or wood can also be suitable as long as the growth remains upright.

One intriguing characteristic of the waling-waling orchid is its propensity to produce keikis, which are offshoots that sap nutrients from the mother plant. To prevent the decline of the mother plant, it is recommended to separate the keikis individually before they start affecting the parent’s vitality. The waling-waling orchid is widely propagated commercially and readily available in the market, making it accessible to enthusiasts and collectors.

Wild and natural form of the waling-waling orchid flower. (Manila Bulletin Agriculture)

The waling-waling orchid, with its noble beauty and intriguing characteristics, holds a special place in the hearts of Filipinos. There have been movements and discussions advocating for the Waling-waling to be recognized as the national flower of the Philippines. Despite challenges in establishing it as the national flower, its cultural significance remains undeniable. With proper care and understanding of its tropical requirements, enthusiasts can cultivate and enjoy the breathtaking beauty of the waling-waling orchid. Its varied forms, captivating blooms, and rich history continue to inspire awe and admiration, making it a treasured gem of the Philippines.

Photo courtesy of Manila Bulletin Agriculture

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