Heart-skipping orchids

Gone are the days when you used to go to the checkout stand and impulse-buy a blooming African violet to brighten your home or office. These days, what catches your eye are the orchids.

colorful orchid flowers
Watercolor orchids are colored using a patented dyeing process to create their neon appearance. Photo by Wendy Hanson Mazet, Cooperative Extension.

In the past, these exotic, beautiful flowers were mainly used for special occasions, weddings and corsages, but not mass-produced or reasonably priced. You can now can find them in a nursery, at the florist, and even in a hardware store.

There are more than 25,000 different types of orchids that grow naturally around the world. The most widely sold variety, and the easiest to keep as a houseplant, is the Phalaenopsis, or commonly called butterfly orchid. They come in a vast array of colors. The only color you won’t see is black; it is just a shade that is very difficult for orchids to produce.

You will see them in vibrant blues, pinks, limey greens and even oranges, some with an unnatural neon appearance. While the orchid naturally produces many beautiful color combinations, many people like even more intense colors. Thus, scientists have patented a dyeing process to create intense, vibrant, neon shades in the flowers. These are known as watercolor orchids.

As someone who loves plants, I have expanded my houseplant collection with primarily Phalaenopsis. Keep in mind that if you purchase a watercolor orchid and the flowers fade away, when the plant re-blooms it will revert to its original color, typically white or pale green. Why does this happen? The dye injected into the plant was used to modify the flower petals and, in some cases, the leaf. As the plant grows and flowers fade, the amount of dye injected into the plant is used up. Even as the dye fades, these are still beautiful orchids to keep. But, if you want to have one for years that always blooms in gorgeous colors, go for the naturally occurring colors.

white orchid flowers
There are more than 25,000 different types of orchids. Photo by Wendy Hanson Mazet, Cooperative Extension.

If you are new to growing orchids, Phalaenopsis is a great one to start with. There is a vast variety to choose from. Some with long stalks and multiple sprays of small flowers or the traditional single-flower spike with multiple 2- to 5-inch flowers.

Caring for an orchid is simple. They are generally grown in a coarse bark medium that should be submerged in water for a few minutes and then allowed to drain. A bright east-facing window with indirect light will work well. Direct sunlight can burn the orchid, and they do not do well in drafty areas.

Orchids enjoy growing in the same temperatures we do: 60s at night and up to the low 90s during the day. You may need to increase the humidity if your home is very dry, but this can be done easily and decoratively by placing the orchid pot on a humidity tray or a saucer filled with water-submerged pebbles.

Phalaenopsis generally bloom once a year, but many times they will surprise you. Depending on the location and variety, flowers can last from weeks to months. They are definitely worth a try and, in many cases, do very well in the home or office environment.

Wendy Hanson Mazet is the Master Gardener Program coordinator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension in Washoe County. Have questions about your plants? Contact a master gardener at 775-336-0265 or mastergardeners@unce.unr.edu, or visit www.growyourownnevada.com.