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Orchids - a gift that keeps on giving

Caroline, a member of our horticultural team has written this fascinating article for our Journal about the history of the orchids and why they are such great value and easy to care for.

Orchids are one of the oldest families of flowering plants and appear in the fossil record. They are also one of the largest families with over 25,000 species naturally occurring and up to 300 more discovered each year.

Only one orchid is grown commercially outside of the horticulture industry, and this is a vine like orchid called Vanilla planifolia, an important tropical crop that produces vanilla for the food industry.

Since Victorian times when plant hunters bought exotic plants back to Britain, there has been a huge interest in breeding orchids which continues today, and new hybrids are brought to market continuously. Laboratory propagation methods mean that previously expensive plants are now more economical than a bunch of cut flowers. With flowers that can last for months, don’t make the mistake of throwing the plant away once all its flowers have faded. There are two options, either cut the flower spike back to 3mm above the next node or remove the flower spike completely, cutting it a few centimetres from the base of the spike. Remember to give them a position where they will be out of direct sunlight and continue to feed and water. Phalaenopsis (Moth Orchid) is now the most popular flowering houseplant in Britain.

An orchid is very easy to care for in a home environment and will easily tolerate the warmer, dryer conditions in modern homes. Most other orchids prefer a humid atmosphere which can be provided with the use of a pebble tray.

All the varieties sold as houseplants need to be kept out of direct sunlight and away from radiators, in a warm bright position.

My seasonal favourites are:

Vandas, with huge showy flowers, ideal in humid bathrooms or kitchens and only needing a light spray of water on the aerial roots.

Cambrias, which have a huge array of colours and patterns and many of which are delightfully scented.

Phalaenopsis, creating a stunning centrepiece for the Christmas table.