By Sandra Ozkur

Admired for its delicate beauty, magnificence, and artful splendor, the orchid, which was once rare and expensive, has now become affordable for all to enjoy, thanks to a new surge of domestic growers.

Most orchid plants originate in tropical climates, where they grow wild on the bark of trees.  There are over 20,000 species worldwide; indeed, Canada has its own selection of indigenous orchids. Orchids are considered endangered species and international wild orchid trade is prohibited. However, with the propagation of cultivated seeds by international growers, the exotic orchid has become readily available to collectors and lovers of this magnificent plant.

Contrary to popular belief, the orchid, while delicate in appearance, is actually very hardy and holds up well in all sorts of floral bouquets. So it is no wonder that its popularity has exploded in recent years. This coveted flower can now be found in wedding bouquets, corsages, flower displays, corporate décor and memorial arrangements.

Orchids come in a wide variety of shapes and colours to suite everyone’s taste.

The most common variety is Phalaenopsis, generally known as the ‘moth orchid’, which has thick waxy leaves and grows elegant arching sprays of blossoms. These plants are easy to find at your local florist or department store and come in a variety of colours. Most people start out by purchasing one of these orchids because they are the most showy and easy to care for.

Although orchids are very hardy, they are terrestrial, which means they imprint upon the environment in which they sprouted: they don’t like to be moved from their native area and will likely die if uprooted. That is why commercial growers are needed to grow orchids that can survive in local interior climates. It takes nearly two years for seeds to mature, and then another two years to sprout in a sterilized vile before they can be planted.

In order to get the low-down on proper handling of orchid plants, I went to one of Ontario’s leading experts on orchid growing—Claudio Rossi of Cloud’s Orchids Nursery, located in Jordan Station, Niagara. Claudio acquired his first orchids in 1975 as a hobby. Since then, this hobby has grown into a full-scale business which sells to collectors all over the world. His nursery specializes in rare and exotic species that are propagated in his greenhouses.

I asked Claudio if the care and handling of orchids requires any special instructions. “Although orchids are quite hardy, the biggest mistake that people make is over watering,” says Claudio. He went on to provide me with a comprehensive list of do’s and don’ts.

Here are Claudio’s rules of thumb when choosing and caring for orchids:

  • Choose plants suitable for your home environment. There is an orchid for every setting but they prefer a consistent location. Different varieties require different window light, so pick one according to the lighting conditions where you will be displaying it:
  • Phalaenopsis like east or west window light.
  • Dendrobium prefer filtered south light. So shear curtains over the window are perfect. This variety produces thick vertical canes of flowers.
  • Oncidium also require filtered south light. They produce upright sprays of red and yellow blossoms.
  • Cattleya, corsage orchid, like west or filtered south sunlight.
  • Paphiopedilum, lady’s slipper, prefer north or east light.
  • Bright green leaves indicate a healthy plant, dark green leaves indicate insufficient light, and yellowish green leaves indicate too much light.
  • Orchids like humidity, so a light daily misting of the plant or placing humidifier nearby helps during winter.
  • Never get water on the leaves as it may injure the plant.
  • Orchids generally grow on bark or dead plant debris, so caring for the root system is the most important part of keeping the plant healthy.
  • The roots require good air circulation, so never put them in potting soil. They require proper orchid mulch for planting.
  • Over watering will kill your plant. Wait till your plant approaches dryness before watering. Pour approximately the same amount of water as the size of your pot through the root system and be sure to let it drain thoroughly. The roots don’t like stagnant moisture.
  • Use rain or tap water but never bottled or spring water.
  • Never clip the roots, as this is how the plant breathes.
  • Once the plant finishes blooming, trim back the dead cane and then move your plant to cooler conditions each night, with some luck your plant will bloom again the next year.

If properly cared for, your plant will continue to bloom for up to three months.

A certified orchid judge, Claudio has been propagating seed, dividing plants, teaching classes and judging orchid shows for more than 20 years.  He has over 10,000 unique varieties in his own personal collection. One of his most coveted orchids is Mexipedium Xerophyticum. This genus only has one species and are extremely rare.

Orchid growing is attracting more and more enthusiasts and becoming quite a popular hobby. If you would like to connect with others who have a passion for these exotic plants, you can join a local orchid society, an online virtual orchid group, or enter your plants into competitions. Claudio offers monthly workshops at his orchid facility and is always happy to share his orchid passion.

For more detailed information on orchid growing, visit Cloud’s Orchids website at cloudsorchids.com