Did you know that there are over 20,000 species of orchid? To put this in perspective there are more species of orchid on the planet than there are species of birds and mammals combined! As you might suspect orchids are found in the tropics of Asia, South, and Central America but there are even orchids that grow above the Arctic Circle and in Patagonia; one of the driest locations in the world. Orchids are so diverse that their uses range from perfumes and aromatherapy to the vanilla that is used in baking.
Orchids are not only colorful but often have a pleasing fragrance as well. They are perennial plants in their native habitats but in the United States, they are usually grown as a houseplant. While orchids can be classified in many ways there are two broad categories to consider; epiphytes grow attached to trees and the terrestrial orchids grow in soil and as a result, they require slightly moister conditions. While their impressive blooms make them appear to be exotic they actually can be relatively simple to maintain if you understand the conditions that they require.
The first and perhaps most important step is purchasing orchids from reputable sources. Many orchids are considered endangered species and you want to be sure that you are not getting orchids that were taken from wild habitats. Orchids can take up to 5 years to bloom from seed so it is best to purchase plants that are in bloom unless you have a great deal of patience! As a result of their diversity, the growing requirements can differ significantly from one orchid to another. The key is to be sure you pick the right one for the growing conditions that you will be able to provide to the plant. Here are some of the considerations to take into account:
• Some orchids grow tall and even require support for the flowers. You need to be sure you have enough space for the plant to grow properly.
• The temperature and lighting requirements vary from one plant to another. Some require a cool windowsill out of direct sunshine while others need warmth and brighter lighting conditions.
• While the amount of watering needed by the plants can vary somewhat it is important not to water the leaves as this can encourage disease. Most orchids benefit from a more humid environment than is typically found in a home so putting orchids on or near trays filled with pebbles and water is a good way to increase the humidity around these plants.
• The soil requirements for orchids can range from the soil with good drainage to situations where the orchid might do the best growing in an aquarium-like environment.
Finally, while preparing to bloom and while in bloom orchids will benefit from some regular fertilization. Their blooms in some cases can last for several weeks or even months which is just another reason to love this plant. There are hundreds of clubs throughout the United States for people who are enthusiastic about orchids. The American Orchid Society found at www.aos.org may be among the most comprehensive including checklists about how to care and maintain an orchid which may be beneficial to beginners. If you’ve never grown an orchid before, why not give it a try. There’s got to be an orchid out there for us all, right?