Monday, November 19, 2007
Plant ID: Paphiopedilum sp.
This is a kind of Paphiopedilum, an orchid commonly known as a slipper orchid. As members of the largest flowering plant family on earth, Orchidaceae, there are slipper orchids indigenous to both the Old World and the New World. New World slipper orchids, those native solely to the Americas, are known by the genus Phragmipedium. Cypripediums are slipper orchids that have been found in the Americas as well as Europe and Asia. Paphiopedilums are considered Old World slipper orchids and are native from India across southern China to the Philippines and New Guinea. Within the genus Paphiopedilum there are terrestrial species, which grow in leaf litter on the forest floor, lithophytic species, which grow anchored on limestone cliffs, and epiphytic species, which grow on other plants. The one above that I bought and added to my collection is an epiphytic species. You can tell this by the free-draining yet moisture retentive mix of fir bark that the plant is grown in, meant to resemble the environment in which they would naturally grow, in the crook of a tree perched high up in the rainforest. Many orchids have pseudobulbs which are large bulbous growths that retain and store excess water and nutrients for times of drought. Paphiopedilums, however, do not form pseudobulbs and instead do all of their water and nutrient storage in their thick, fleshy leaves. You can see that the slipper orchid I bought has an attractive mottling to its leaves. Paphiopedilums have been found at every elevation from sea level to 7,000 feet above sea level and higher, and those found in lower, warmer situations tend to have this characteristic leaf pattern. Now, certain orchid growers will tell you that both the solid-green and mottle-leafed Paphs can be grown with equal success, but since this is my first of this genus, and our city apartments can get so overheated, I thought I'd stick with one that I felt might adapt better to the environment I can provide. That and the mottled leaves will continue to provide some visual interest even after the flower has passed. This beautiful slipper orchid will prefer night temperatures a good 10 or 15 degrees cooler than the day, so I have placed it near a window where I hope it might get a chance to cool off a little bit at night. We cannot always provide the ideal conditions for plants we choose to grow as houseplants so we simply have to do the best we can. Otherwise I will provide it with general orchid care: water once a week in winter and perhaps more often in the summer when the plant is more active; keep a tray of moist pebbles underneath the pot to provide some additional humidity in the immediate area around the orchid; and continue to grow it in an area of bright, indirect light with no direct sunlight for any length of time. I bought this plant a month ago and the initial flower is still holding up very well. Remember, if you want your orchid flowers to hold up, you must provide the plant with some extra added humidity. There is a second bloom on the flower spike, another reason I chose this specific specimen, and after a month that is just beginning to open. Lastly, there was one final reason I chose to buy a Paphiopedilum and I will share that with you as well. Orchids have a growth habit that is either monopodial, or sympodial. An example of a monopodial orchid is a Phalaenopsis, or a moth orchid, that typical white orchid you see everywhere. Upon examining the plant you will see that all of its new growth emerges out of one single growing point at the top of the plant. Orchids with sympodial growth habits, on the other hand, put out new growth from the base or the sides of preexisting foliage. Look again at the foliage picture above. See the main growth where the flower stalk is rising up, and then see the new leaves growing up and out to the left of that? Well, that new growth will eventually grow into a plant of its own with its own flower spike. If it gets large enough I hope that some day I may be able to sever it from the mother plant and continue to grow on its own. In general I like to buy and grow orchids with sympodial growth habits (Paphiopedilum, Oncidium, Cattleya, etc.) because even when the plant is not in flower there is typically enough new growth of foliage that the plant is still large and interesting enough as a houseplant.