By JAMES TABABA
Phalaenopsis orchids, often referred to as moth, mariposa, or butterfly orchids due to their wing-like flowers which come in various colors and patterns, have captivated the hearts of many plant enthusiasts and hobbyists.
The Phalaenopsis orchid is classified as a monopodial orchid, signifying that it possesses a single point of growth and continues to grow indefinitely. In the Philippines alone, we are fortunate to be home to over 20 distinct species of Phalaenopsis orchids. This orchid variety holds a significant position in the global floriculture economy, primarily cultivated for two purposes — as cut flowers or as flowering potted plants.
The diversity of Phalaenopsis
The classic appearance of the Phalaenopsis orchid is characterized by a lengthy spike, with its flowers being round and evenly spaced. However, it’s worth noting that within the Phalaenopsis family, there are numerous species that deviate from this rounded form and instead exhibit a star-shaped appearance. These unique varieties are often referred to as novelty Phalaenopsis.
Among the Phalaenopsis species from the Philippines that significantly contribute to the gene pool of Phalaenopsis hybrids are Phalaenopsis amabilis, Phalaenopsis aphrodite, Phalaenopsis stuartiana, Phalaenopsis schilleriana, Phalaenopsis philippinensis, and Phalaenopsis sanderiana.
Through intensive breeding efforts, growers have introduced a wide array of new forms into the market, featuring patterns like splashes, spots, and candy stripes. However, it’s important to note that the classic white Phalaenopsis orchids remain the most sought-after and marketable. While they can be relatively pricey, with some flowering plants costing up to P700, they continue to be a preferred choice.
The perfect indoor plant
Phalaenopsis orchids have earned the reputation of being excellent indoor plants. When kept indoors, their flowers can maintain their beauty for an impressive three months, often producing between six to 15 blooms during this period. While they can rebloom, it may require up to six months of rest before they flower again. These orchids are not only compact and long-lasting but also relatively affordable, making them a popular choice for indoor plant enthusiasts.
Another noteworthy quality of Phalaenopsis orchids is their compact size when compared to other orchid varieties, such as Vandas, which can grow up to 2 feet in height and have extensive root systems. Phalaenopsis orchids can thrive in relatively small pots and are highly adaptable to confined spaces, which makes them easy to package and transport.
Growing requirements and challenges
Phalaenopsis orchids naturally thrive in mountainous and forested regions characterized by cooler climates and high humidity. Cultivating them in lowland areas can pose challenges. To encourage blooming, people often transport their Phalaenopsis orchids to cooler provinces like Quezon and Batangas. Once the orchids bloom, they return them to Manila. While Phalaenopsis can adapt to warmer climates, flowering may be less conducive.
Phalaenopsis leaves resemble broad tongues, rendering the plant vulnerable to sunburn. Therefore, they should be placed in areas with filtered sunlight. Adequate air circulation is crucial to prevent the development of pests and diseases, particularly red spider mites and certain piercing-sucking insects that target the leaves. Additionally, some birds have a tendency to peck at the orchid buds. Ideally, these plants should be housed in a greenhouse to shield them from these threats.
Watering should occur approximately once a week. Traditionally, coconut husk and charcoal are some of the commonly used growing media in the Philippines, but in large commercial production, white sphagnum moss is preferred due to its excellent water retention, reducing the frequency of watering. However, it’s essential to compact the white sphagnum moss to prevent waterlogging, which can lead to root rot.
Fertilization can be achieved through slow-release fertilizers that last up to two months or traditional foliar fertilizers applied once or twice a week.
One challenge with Phalaenopsis cultivation is its susceptibility to rot. While commercial Phalaenopsis exhibit upright growth, their natural growth tends to be pendulous, allowing water to run off and preventing moisture from accumulating in the crown. Training Phalaenopsis for upright growth makes them more susceptible to rot. To mitigate this risk, watering should be done in the early morning or afternoon, ensuring that the plant is dry before dusk.
Phalaenopsis orchids are versatile and suitable for a wide range of occasions. They are commonly seen adorning offices, hotels, and homes, adding an elegant touch to interior decor. During special events like Valentine’s Day, Phalaenopsis with shades of purple and red make for a thoughtful and romantic gift.
At weddings, brides often carry bouquets of pristine white Phalaenopsis as they make their way down the aisle, adding an element of grace and sophistication to the ceremony.
Some traders resort to dyeing techniques by adding coloring agents to the water in which white flowering Phalaenopsis are placed. This enables the orchids to absorb the dye and bloom in specific colors, prominently with blue color. Blue is not naturally present in the Phalaenopsis genome. However, in Japan, a breakthrough was achieved by genetically engineering the Phalaenopsis plant using a gene derived from Commelina communis, resulting in the creation of a true blue Phalaenopsis variety. This innovation marked a significant milestone in the world of orchid cultivation, expanding the color spectrum of these beautiful flowers.
Phalaenopsis orchids, with their breathtaking beauty and adaptability, have rightfully earned their place as one of the most beloved orchid plants. Their charm, diverse forms, and relatively easy care make them an ideal choice for both seasoned gardeners and beginners alike.
Photo courtesy of Manila Bulletin Agriculture