A myriad of orchids to choose from
The orchid family, according to Wikipedia, is one of the largest on the planet. The website says they are one of the two largest flowering plant families. Their list of species is twice as large as those of the birds and four times the number of mammals.
Within these species are immense variations of foliage and flower formations. For the home gardener, there are plenty for growing both indoors or out.
New Zealand has its own varieties of orchid plants, described by the NZ Native Orchid Group as shy creatures that are much overlooked here despite being found from the coast to alpine areas.
New discoveries are still being made too. In 2009 it was discovered that an orchid formerly thought to grow only on Norfolk Island was growing in a patch of gorse and regenerating mahoe in an area south of Whangarei. Known commonly as Norfolk Island ribbonroot and orchid spaghetti it isn’t yet known if it also grows in other parts of the country.
Some orchids are epiphytes, that is they prefer to grow on the boughs of trees or nestled into rocks. In these positions they can reap the benefits of fallen leaf debris, bird droppings and wind-blown matter to feed from through their fibrous roots as well as soak up moisture from the air.
Obviously good drainage suits these orchids that collect rainwater in their bulbous root mass. To grow these yourself, you can attach an epiphyte-type plant to a suitable tree, one that has rough bark and is not too shady, poking it in a fork in the branches and tying it on well.
Gardener Geoff Bryant recommends (in The Ultimate New Zealand Gardening Book) surrounding the root mass with sphagnum moss and adding fertiliser at planting. A simpler way might be to position a pot-planted orchid on an old tree stump or in a bare patch amongst shrubbery.
The important thing is to find out what sort of conditions your orchid prefers as there are so many variations. The plants also have differing moisture requirements depending on the time of year and their flowering pattern. Generally they need less after flowering and none during winter.
Bryant says terracotta pots both look better and work well in terms of water management and they dry out quicker. Also, he says, make sure you use a specialised orchid potting mix, not soil as it will suffocate the roots.
To propagate orchids, as perennials they can be divided while dormant (after they have finished flowering) or if you’re wanting to re- pot, Bryant suggests simply putting the old container into a larger pot as is, if the roots are clinging on tight to their current home. But if you are planting up new pieces of plant, ensure the root bulbs stand above the potting medium level.
The advantage with pots is that you can bring flowering orchids indoors to enjoy their long display. Place them where they will get plenty of light and fresh air but experts say to avoid placing them in direct sun. Other orchids are happy growing in the ground outside and these are the plants originating in the more temperate parts of the world as compared to the humid loving tropical epiphytes. Ground growers and epiphytes thrive in greenhouses.
Just right: This orchid clearly enjoys having its roots contained and living amidst the trees.