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Moth Orchid, Golden treasure orchid

Orchids Ideal for Mother’s Day

by Wes Porter
Saturday, May 6, 2006

Sunday, 14 May is Mother’s Day or Fete des Meres in la language other. Orchids are everywhere and rightly so. One authority claims that 25,000 different species of orchid have been identified--and the same number created artificially by crossing wild and domesticated forms. Nevertheless is it the fabulous Phalaenopsis orchids that hold sway in garden centres and florists alike. Even supermarkets are getting into the act.

And so they should. Contrary to common belief many orchids are surprisingly easy, even ideal houseplants. With a modicum of attention they can be persuaded to bloom year after year. And these blooms may last for months, as do those of Phalaenopsis, also known as the Moth Orchid.

What a gift for Mother! Not only can she enjoy the flowers for weeks but afterwards, seeing its handsome, glossy leaves, be reminded that thrillingly another wiry stem--perhaps even two--will appear next spring or even earlier.

The Moth Orchid says one expert "is among the most beautiful of all orchids." Even early taxonomists were impressed, naming them for their fancied resemblance to a flight of moths across a shaded rainforest clearing. In the Greek, phalaina is a moth, while ムopsis indicates the resemblance of the blooms to such.

The white forms in particular bear out the nomenclature, especially when seen at dawn against a north- or east-facing window, ideal lighting for the plant. Some bear pure white flowers but others may have petals and sepals carmine rose, purplish-red, yellowish-green, golden yellow, even orange. These may be or pure colour or variously spotted, streaked, blotched or otherwise arrayed in, it seems, almost any other colour. A recent a very popular introduction through Florida growers is ’Golden Treasure’ which certainly lives up to its name!

About 50 species of Phalaenopsis have been identified. Taxonomists being a contentious crowd, the exact number is in such doubt. All originate the Himalayas, through Southeast Asia to the Philippines and New Guinea with extensions into such places as Taiwan and Queensland. All are epiphytes, growing on trees for support but without being parasitic.

Thanks to this growth habit, they are raised in specially selected bark chips, usually in plastic pots inserted into clay flowerpots. The clay containers reduce the risk of top-heavy plants tipping, while the plastic pots retain just the right amount of moisture. As with almost all houseplants it is this moisture that is critical. Orchids hate cold water as much as over-watering--or under-watering. Place in the sink, water heavily, and then allow to drain before returning to a lightly shaded window. Repeat perhaps every 3 to 5 or more days. Fertilize cautiously--strong preparations, particularly chemical-based, can spell disaster. Very dilute fish-based plant foods, ‘Muskie’ for example, used every couple of weeks might be suggested.

Wes Porter is a horticultural consultant and writer based in Toronto. He has over 40 years of experience in both temperate and tropical horticulture from three continents.