Frequently Asked Questions about Orchids

Are orchids hard to grow?
No.  They are no harder to grow in Iowa than many flowering plants popular in our state.  Like any plant, an orchid needs water, food, light, and air.  If you can grow other garden and house plants, you can grow orchids.  All it takes is a little understanding and care.

Aren't orchids parasites?
Absolutely not!  Of the over 35,000 species of orchids that grow around the world, not one is parasitic.  In nature, many orchids cling to the trees and bushes as a growth habit; but they take nothing from the host plant and do not injure it in any way.

Aren't all orchids the same?
To the contrary.  No plant family is more diverse.  After all, all the orchid family in the largest plant family in nature.  From the thimble-sized Mystacidium caffrum to the 20-foot tall Renanthera storiei, orchids take amazingly different shapes, forms, and growth habits.  Some orchids produce blossoms no larger than a mosquito; some orchid flowers are as large as a dinner plate; some only produce a single flower at a time, while some produce dozens of flowers at once.  Your familiar corsage orchid is just one of thousands of attractive types that can be grown in Iowa, given the proper care and environment.

Do you need a greenhouse to grow orchids?
Not necessarily.  Some popular orchids can be grown in your home on a window sill or under lighting.  Some may be grown outside, and are able to withstand cold weather.  In selecting plants, choose those that will survive in the environment that you have to offer.  On the other hand, most orchid growers eventually get a greenhouse, because its controlled environment enables them to grow additional species that would not be happy inside your home.

Do orchids come from the jungles?
Some do.  But, every country in the world, and every state in the United States, has its orchid species, including Alaska.  Iowa, for example has 32 native orchid species.

Do orchids smell good?
Some are so powerfully scented as to perfume your whole neighborhood.  Others have no scent, but rely upon shape and color to attract insects or birds for pollination.

How long do the blooms last?
It depends on the type of orchid, plus factors of culture and care.  Blooms of hybrids of the Cattleya alliance may last from one to four weeks on the plant.  Those of the Phalaenopsis alliance commonly last from one to four months.

What sort of soil do they need?
Most orchids require none.  As most orchids are epiphytes, they can be grown in tree bark, crumbled charcoal, pebbles, or on tree fern or cork slabs.  In nature, orchids can be divided into four types according to growing conditions.  Epiphytes, or air plants, grown on trees.  The rock growers, or lithophytes, cling to the surface of rocks.  Saprophytes are those which grow in mulch, often on the forest floor.  Finally, there are the terrestrials which anchor themselves in soil or sand and need a specific symbiotic fungus to survive.

Aren't orchids expensive?
Not any more.  Once a rich man's hobby, orchids are now within the reach of any income.  Modern propagation methods and techniques make it possible for growers to enjoy the finest plants for just a few dollars.  You can spend as much or as little as you like on your hobby.  But, you should be warned that trying to own just one orchid is like trying to eat just one potato chip.

Should they be protected from drafts?
By no means.  As a matter of fact, orchids require moving air to thrive.  They do best where there is a steady breeze.  After all, in nature, orchids are subject to all kinds of weather.

Must orchids be kept hot?
Like most plants, orchids prefer a middle range of temperatures, neither too hot nor too cold.  Some warm-growing species can take hot weather, some cool-growers are not harmed by subfreezing temperatures.  It depends upon the plant's species.

Are orchids short-lived?
Most orchids are very long-lived.  In fact, some species are virtually immortal, given the proper attention.  Divisions or propagations of orchids discovered in the 19th century are still growing and blooming today... a botanical heritage from an earlier century.

How often do orchids bloom?
Again, it depends upon the plant's species.  Some bloom once a year, some bloom continuously.

When do orchids bloom?
The most popular types of orchids bloom in the winter and spring, but orchids may be found that bloom in any month of the year.

Can you transport orchids?
Yes.  That's one of their greatest assets.  Orchids are portable.  Because they are grown in pots, baskets or on cork bark slabs, they can be carried anywhere.  Orchids are routinely mailed and shipped across the country and around the world.

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