Sunday, December 5, 2010

Understanding the Epiphytic Orchid

Orchids I saw at the gardens of the  Intercontinental Hotel (Makati).

The Mediterranean climate here in California allows us to grow a wide variety of exotic plants.  However, with my recent trip to the Philippines, envy crept all over me and my humanity gave in when I saw the way orchids are growing there.  I can grow them here but it would not be as easy as when they are grown in their native habitat.   Here we enjoy the dryness of the Mediterranean air and despise the humidity of the tropical breeze.  However, we know that the epiphytic-orchids feel the other way around.
The Greenbelt Shopping Center boasts beautiful orchids that are planted between buildings.

Epiphytes.  Epiphytic plants (roots are above ground) like most orchids derive nutrients and water from the atmospheric air.   Orchids growing on tree trunks are a common sight in wooded areas of the Philippines as well as in home gardens and as well as in public gardens.  Gardeners bring these beautiful plants near their homes and they tie them to a tree and voila!  Unlike their terrestrial counter parts that have a prolonged access to soil moisture, epiphytes live in a more or less arid (zerophytic) conditions.  The roots, being in the air, are dry most of the time.  Water from the rain settles down way below the reach of the roots.  Sunshine not only provides the needed light and warmth to the leaves but it also lifts up the water up in the form of vapor.   Here in California, the air is so dry that it sucks even the moisture from my skin.   Before the orchid has a chance to drink a little, the moisture vanishes in mid air.
Orchids growing on trees near my sister's house in Cagayan.

Adaptation mechanism.  Orchids generally require 60-80 percent relative humidity for optimum flowering.  This high humidity requirement is not always achievable but orchids have adapted to the fluctuating available moisture.  Leaves come in different shapes (flat, folded, or even pencil-like leaves) and all these help the orchids adapt to their environment.  Most orchids have thick fleshy leaves, similar to that of the succulents that allow them to store water and resist drying out.

More orchids at Greenbelt, Makati. 
The gardens provide a pleasant place to take a break from stressful Christmas shopping.

Orchids have specialized roots called velamen.  These are the white shimmery roots (as seen in the above picture).  These are the roots that are used to both anchor the plants and absorb water and nutrients from the air.  What is special about the velamen is that they are made of multi-layered thick cell walls.   The property of the velamen prevents cellular collapse during periods of dryness and acts as a barrier to water loss.  When the tips of the velamen are green it means that the orchid is happy. 

Orchids at my old High School (ANRVHS) in Abulug.

In the Philippines, just like any other marine tropical place, orchids grow voluntarily on trees.  The home-grown orchids likewise, perform naturally well.  On the contrary, growing epiphytic orchids here is like having a plant in ICU all the time.  

Many times I have tried growing epiphytic orchids here in my garden; so far I have not had much success.  Is it just me or is it the climate? 


p3chandan said...

Orchids are soo exotic and beautiful and they have sooo many varieties and hybrids! Even though you have the right climate to grow orchids, I feel you must have the flare and knowledge know-how to grow them successfully.Ive just started a small collection of orchids around my garden, but nothing much to be proud of at the moment..

One said...

I've heard both extremes about orchids. Many people say its difficult to get them to flower but I have a friend with 300 pots blooming profusely.

Anonymous said...

I love orchids, but the Phals that I have seem to live on neglect. Thanks for the info,I always wanted to try new varieties.

Helen Lewis said...

p3chandan - I' trying to grow orchids as you can tell. I am focusing on cymbidiums because they are a lot easier. :) Thanks for visiting.

One - I envy your friend. It is my plan to increase my cymbidiums (not epiphytes) but surely it won't be even close to 300 plants! Thanks for visiting!

gardenwalkgardentalk - I'm inspired to hear that others are growing orchids with no sweat at all. I guess I'll have to evaluate my techniques and adjust them accordingly. :) I appreciate your visit. Come again.

Kimberly said...

Great post, Helen! Very enjoyable and interesting. My orchids have not given me any problems...I do believe it's the climate.

Bom said...

Great post Helen. I have to confess though that when I am in Greenbelt, I am drawn to the Cycads and Palms and not to the orchids. Should I try my hand at growing them, do you think? I don't want them to displace my Tillys though. So many epiphytes!

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

Excellent post Helen. I remember when I saw my first 'wild' epiphytic orchids, clinging to the trees in the forests of Costa Rica. They really do thrive in a humid environment, which no doubt, is why orchids languish in my living room. Having desiccated a few, I've opted to leave them in the forests where they're happier!

lee forcier said...

I have just started with the orchids myself but after reading your staements on how to grow and where they grow very well I am feeling great about it for I live in Cebu City in the philipines, and from what you say this is one of the better places to grow them ,for I am from Phx. Az. and as you know it is very hard to grow there because of the dry weather in a desert, Iam sure I will enjoy my orchids ,thank for the info.

Unknown said...

can someone please tell me the name of the orchid pictured in the dec 5 2010 blog about epiphytic orchis? Below the photo reads.."The Greenbelt Shopping Center boasts beautiful orchids that are planted between buildings."

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