Magazine article Sunset

Elegant and Easy ... Orchids to Grow Indoors

Magazine article Sunset

Elegant and Easy ... Orchids to Grow Indoors

Article excerpt

They're corsage orchids, lady's slippers, and moth orchids

SOMETIMES BIZARRE, but more often elegant and exotic, orchids are the royalty of the flower kingdom. More than 25,000 species have been named so far.

These beauties, while much admired and cherished, have a reputation for being finicky and difficult to grow. But many are simple to raise indoors, once you learn their basic needs.

Three types of orchids are easy and reliable to grow: Cattleya, Paphiopedilum, and Phalaenopsis.

All can be grown on a windowsill and will rebloom indoors without artificial light (except cattleya, which requires artificial light in winter in the Northwest and in foggy coastal areas). Long-lasting flowers come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors.


Familiar to many from prom nights, cattleya is the flamboyant, colorful orchid used in corsages. This large-flowered type normally grows 1 1/2 to 2 feet tall; miniature cattleyas are 6 to 12 inches tall with smaller flowers.

The thick, leathery leaves are attached to pseudobulbs (enlarged stems), which send up stems topped with one to five or more flowers. Flowers last two to six weeks and may be scented. Under ideal conditions, some varieties of cattleya may rebloom in summer.

Of the three types, cattleya offers the widest color range; varieties with lavender, purple, or white flowers, with colored lips, are the best known. Yellow and green flowers are also popular. New colors include port, apricot, and copper.


To some, paphiopedilum (lady's slipper) is beautiful; to others, it's bizarre. Flowers may be mahogany, green, brown, pink, white, or yellow with warts, hairs, and bold stripes or subtle color blends.

Like cattleya, this orchid sends up one bloom stem from each cluster of leaves. It's crowned with a single pouch-lipped flower that lasts up to three months.

Paphiopedilums with solid green leaves require cool temperatures (50|degrees~ to 60|degrees~ at night); ones with mottled leaves are warm growers (60|degrees~ to 65|degrees~ at night). The latter fare better under average household conditions.


Graceful, elegant flowers of phalaenopsis (moth orchid) seem to flutter along arching stems. Flower stalks arise from flat leathery leaves; flowers open from the bottom. Flower sprays last two to three months.

Commonest colors are white and pink, but candy-stripe, rose-pink, purple, and spotted yellow are becoming more available. Phalaenopsis blooms from the same leaf cluster year after year.

After bloom, cut off the flower stalk just above the node that produced the lowest flower; it may send out a new flower spike. Since flowering saps the plant's strength, it's best to cut the stalk back to the base after two or three cycles or if the plant is unhealthy, so it can put energy back into leaf growth.


To be successful with orchids, it's important to mimic their native conditions.

Temperature. All three grow well if temperatures stay 60|degrees~ to 65|degrees~ at night and 70|degrees~ to 75|degrees~ during the day.

Light. Proper lighting is critical for getting plants to rebloom. Cattleya needs the most light. Set plants in a south window filtered by a sheer curtain (or set them back a few feet). …

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