By JAMES TABABA
Paphiopedilum, commonly known as the lady’s slipper orchid, is a fascinating group of plants included in the Appendix I list of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Being classified under CITES Appendix I means it is a critically endangered plant species subject to stringent international trade regulations that aim to safeguard its survival and prevent further decline.
Paphiopedilum orchids are highly regarded in the horticultural world due to their multifloral nature, producing many flowers on a single stem. Orchid collectors and enthusiasts find them appealing because of their texture, elegance, and diverse range of colors which include purple, brown, green, yellow, and white. Their flowers resemble a lady’s slipper, characterized by bulbous labellum, elongated petals, prominent dorsal sepals, and fused lateral sepals.
Natural habitat and growing conditions
In the Philippines, the most prevalent type is the Paphiopedilum philippinense, which is found extensively in the country and extends to Borneo. These beautiful orchids are native to the Philippines, where two-thirds of the species are endemic, existing only within the country’s borders. Paphiopedilum philippinense has been observed growing on limestone in coastal areas. The porous nature of limestone allows the roots to permeate and store water, making it the preferred growing medium for these orchids. Despite being called “ground orchids,” Paphiopedilum does not grow directly in soil but rather on detritus or decaying vegetation found on the forest floor. In some instances, they can be seen growing on tree branches.
Cultivating Paphiopedilum can be challenging, especially when taken outside their natural habitat. Laboratory-grown Paphiopedilum orchids tend to be easier to grow than those taken from the wild, as they have already been selected and acclimated to controlled conditions. For successful cultivation, it is essential to mimic their natural environment as closely as possible.
Potting mix and container
Paphiopedilum orchids can be grown on various mediums such as bark, limestone, crushed stones, or marbles. Some sellers in Cebu even use crushed crab shells, which should be thoroughly washed and sterilized to remove excess salt. Additional components like coconut husk and charcoal can be added to the potting mix. To ensure stability, it is essential to plant the orchid firmly and avoid wobbling. The plant can be bound or secured on sticks or wires for added support.
While most orchids’ pot size is determined by the length of the leaves or canopy, Paphiopedilum prefers smaller pots, sometimes as little as a two-inch width, but adequate to keep the plant upright. It is crucial that only the roots have contact with the growing medium to prevent rot and diseases caused by leaf-media contact.
Light and water requirements
Paphiopedilum thrives in bright, indirect sunlight. Placing them under a single layer of net shade will provide sufficient lighting. These orchids require watering once a day. A slow-release fertilizer is preferred, although any balanced fertilizer will suffice.
Proper ventilation and air movement
While Paphiopedilum is considered a ground orchid, better growth is often achieved when the plant is hung, allowing for proper ventilation and air movement. The most common problems encountered when growing these orchids are mites and leaf scales, which typically occur due to overcrowding. Additionally, Paphiopedilum orchids are susceptible to bacterial and fungal diseases. However, these issues can be minimized by meeting the basic requirements of adequate sunlight, proper spacing between plants, and avoiding leaf contact between plants. If any signs of browning on the leaves are visible, the affected parts should be promptly removed to prevent disease spread.
Paphiopedilum exhibits an exotic ornamental appearance, making it a sought-after plant. However, its relative rarity and specialized care requirements contribute to its higher cost, appealing more to connoisseur orchid growers rather than a mainstream choice.
Photo courtesy of Manila Bulletin Agriculture