The Vanda Alliance Orchids

These are large monopodial orchids growing naturally from India and China down to Australia and the Philippines. They can be grown in pots, but most of the roots will prefer to wander around outside the pot. Culture in baskets is preferable but they need to be suspended, as the roots tend to hang downwards. A suitable potting medium is large pieces of bark with perhaps the inclusion of lumps of charcoal, pumice or even polystyrene. In bright, sunny, warm weather vandas need plenty of water and frequent misting of exposed roots. In cool or dull winter weather water sparingly, although the exposed roots can be misted. Vandas need feeding use nutrients of the strength recommended for cymbidiums.

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For cultivation purposes vandas can be in one of two groups, terete and strap-leafed. Terete vandas, of which, the species Vanda teres is typical, have leaves that are folded into a cylinder, giving them a thin, pencil-like appearance. A famous terete, believed to be a primary hybrid, is V. Miss Joaquim. This was named after the missionary in whose garden in Singapore the plant was found late in the 19th century. Terete vandas demand strong light for growth and flowering. In tropical areas, many are grown in full sun for cut flowers. They can be difficult subjects and you may wish to limit your collection of vandas to the strap-leafed kinds, or perhaps try semi-terete plants, which are hybrids between the two kinds.

Strap-leafed vandas also need strong light, but some shading is needed in summer. Temperatures should ideally not go below 55°F (12°C). Temperatures below 38°F (4°C) may cause damage to flower buds and root tips. Vanda coerula is much cooler growing than all the other species and the best cultivars have deep sky-blue flowers, not a common color in orchids. This species and V. sanderiana (or Euanthe sanderiana) are in the ancestry of most modern hybrids. At various times these hybrids produce, from a node in the upper leaves, a stem of 10 or more round flowers at least 4 in (10 cm) in diameter in a large color range.

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Vandas grow very tall in time. When they become too tall, cut off the top of the plant at a point where some roots have developed and it will make another plant. The original plant will usually make one or more new vegetative shoots in response to this. Often aerial growths develop on a vanda and these can be potted when they develop roots. Many intergeneric hybrids are grown. Very popular is Ascocenda (Vanda x Ascocentrum).


Probably first in importance among the alliance are the species and hybrids of Phalaenopsis, familiarly known as moth orchids. Their popularity springs not only from their beauty, but also from their willingness to grow and flower indoors under the same conditions that their owners like - night temperatures from 60° to 65°F (16° to 18°C), warmer days, and a modest level of sunlight.

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The orchids are of manageable size and are attractive even when out of flower, with broad, plump, shiny, deep green or mottled leaves. The flowers are long lasting, even as orchid flowers go, and some plants may be in bloom almost continuously. Although not large, they are among the fastest orchids to reach flowering size. They need repotting every 12 to 18 months, because the necessary frequent feeding and watering cause the potting medium to break down. Although they adapt well to typical indoor light and temperature, phalaenopsis do need more humidity than the average home can provide. One caution bears repeating: do not spray or mist plants late in the day; water standing in the center of the plant encourages rot, especially when temperatures are low.

Moth orchid's leaves appear opposite one another and are long lived. Their thick roots grow outside of the mix as well as in it. Flower stems appear from the bases of the leaves and may be erect or arching, simple or branching, with many or few flowers. On some plants the flowers all open at the same time; on others, flowers open slowly from base to top, with new buds appearing as the first flowers begin to fade. When the last flower has dropped, cut the stem just below where the first flower appeared; a second spike may arise from a lower node if the plant is healthy and vigorous.

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Grow plants in pots and baskets or on rafts. If you are growing the plants in a greenhouse (or outdoors in the warmest climates), the baskets may be suspended in a slanting position, or even edgewise, to ensure that moisture drains from the heart of the plant. Plants in pots should be grown in coarse bark, to which may be added perlite and charcoal. They should never be permitted to go dry, but the growing medium must drain freely, and the plants must never sit in water. Plants on rafts or in baskets are often grown in sphagnum moss; these thrive in greenhouses or outdoors where temperatures are consistently warm. Phalaenopsis also do well in sphagnum moss-filled plastic or clay pots; be sure to keep the moss damp and do not allow it to go dry.

Repotting is needed when the growing medium begins to break down and lose its coarse texture, or when the orchid has lost so many of its lowest leaves that a stem is visible below the leaves. The best time to repot is just after bloom.

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Lift the plant and shake out the old mix. Cut out any dead roots and shorten the lower healthy ones to a length that will fit in the pot. The upper long roots should be left uncut; if not too long or brittle, they may simply be pushed into the pot. Break off any stem visible below the lowest live roots. Position the orchid in the center of the pot and fill in the spaces around it with mix. The potting mixture should be firmed about the roots, but not pressed in so firmly as with cattleyas. Water sparingly until plants have resumed growth, but keep the humidity high.

Plants are propagated from seed or from keikis - plantlets produced at the joints of the flower stem. Commercial growers also produce mericlones, or stem propagations. You can recognize such plants by their three-part names - P. Maraldee 'Soroa Brilliance', for instance. The single quotation marks are a sign of particular merit. The orchids you buy may be seedlings; certainly they cost less at that stage. Purchasing such unbloomed plants may seem like buying pigs in a poke, but they will be attractive pigs, if not blue-ribbon material.

Of the 50-odd species, only a few are regularly offered; most orchids for sale are hybrids. The list that follows names species that have been of great importance in improving the race; they are available from some growers. White and shades of pink and purple are most widely seen, but yellow, red, and green are appearing in increasing numbers. Flowers are often dotted, barred, or suffused with deeper colors.

Phalaenopsis amabilis (P. grandiflora)
An arching, yard-long flower stem produces many 3- to 5-inch white flowers whose white lips are marked with red and yellow. The leaves are dark green and glossy, up to 1 foot long. Flowering season is fall and early winter.
Phalaenopsis amboinensis
Flower stems 6 to 9 inches long carry one or a few 2- to 3-inch yellow flowers marked with concentric circles of reddish brown. This species blooms throughout the year.
Phalaenopsis aphrodite
This resembles P. amabilis, but has somewhat smaller flowers and blooms in spring and summer.
Phalaenopsis cornu-cervi
The leaves are 10 inches long and relatively narrow (1 1/2 inches). The flower spike is unusual: branched and flattened, with opposing rows of bracts (the name means deer horned). Its flowers are small, yellow to yellow green marked with brown. The spike continues to produce flowers over a long period and should not be removed until it begins to turn brown. This species likes more light than do most phalaenopsis.
Phalaenopsis equestris
Several stems a year, simple or branching, carry many inch-wide, pinkish purple flowers. The flowering season is long: in favorable circumstances, lasting throughout the year.
Phalaenopsis gigantea
Heavy, fleshy, drooping leaves to 20 inches long by 8 inches wide give this orchid its name. Pendulous spikes to 16 inches long bear rounded yellow or creamy flowers heavily spotted with brown or maroon.
Phalaenopsis hieroglyphica
Several branching flower stems to 1 foot tall produce a long succession of 2-inch creamy flowers, whose pronounced brown markings resemble some form of writing. Late summer bloom.
Phalaenopsis lueddemanniana
Branching stems and flowers resemble those of P. hieroglyphica, but the flower color ranges from white strongly marked with purplish brown to a solid pinkish purple. Year-round bloom.
Phalaenopsis sanderiana
Simple or branching 2 1/2 -foot spikes bear flowers that are usually pink but may be white. Spring and summer bloom.
Phalaenopsis schilleriana
The leaves of this species are a mottled grayish green, and the branching, drooping flower stem can carry as many as a hundred 3-inch flowers of pinkish lavender. Branching flower stems and profuse bloom make it a useful parent. Flowering is in spring.
Phalaenopsis stuartiana
This plant resembles a smaller P. schilleriana, but the 2 1/2 -inch flowers are white with yellow, red-spotted centers. Winter blooming.
Phalaenopsis violacea
The leaves are medium to large and glossy green. The 5-inch flower stem beats a few very fragrant 2- to 3-inch flowers, which usually open one at a time. One form has purple flowers, another green or greenish white with a purple center. Summer and fall bloom.

Hybrid phalaenopsis

From the species (listed above) have sprung an enormous number of hybrids. At one time perfection was considered to be a plant bearing long, arching stalks with many large white flowers. Those are still popular, but newer hybrids may be smaller, with branching flower clusters in white or pale pink to deep purple. The lighter ones are sometimes spotted, stippled, or striped with contrasting colors. Yellow-flowering phalaenopsis hybrids with plain or spotted and barred flowers are currently in vogue; green and nearly red flowers are also available.

A closely related plant is Doritis pulcherrima. (It crosses freely with Phalaenopsis, the offspring being called x Doritaenopsis.) Its leaves are smaller and more numerous than those of Phalaenopsis, and the plant has a short, erect stem. The flower stem is likewise erect, 6 inches to 2 feet tall and branching, with inch-wide flowers of deep reddish purple in the upper portion. The flowers range from white and pink to deep purple, the lighter colors often showing deeper-colored stripes. This orchid flowers in the fall. All D. pulcherrima hybrids greatly resemble Phalaenopsis and are some times marketed as such. They are summer and fall bloomers.


These are sometimes called foxtail orchids, because their arching, drooping flower clusters closely set with flowers suggest the furry tail of a fox. The stems are erect or vine like; they are clothed with closely set leaves in two opposite ranks and throw out many aerial roots. The flowers are individually small but impressive in the mass, and highly fragrant. You grow these orchids in baskets or pots filled with coarse bark. They thrive under the same conditions as cattleyas.

Aerides odorata
Drooping, branching plants may grow to 3 feet. Flower clusters up to 1 foot in length contain 20 or more inch-wide flowers, which range in color from white to purple; white, purple-tipped flowers are most common. Aerides lawrenceae is similar, and is sometimes considered a variety. Its flowers are somewhat smaller. Aerides quinquevulnerum - again, either a species or a variety of A. odorata - has white flowers tipped in bright purple. Many consider it the handsomest of the entire complex. All bloom in spring or early summer.
Aerides rosea (A. fieldingii)
Erect stems to 10 inches pro- duce drooping flower clusters that may reach 2 feet in length and contain as many as 100 inch-wide, fragrant, pink or white flowers spotted with purple. Bloom period is spring or summer.

x Ascocenda

These are hybrids between Ascocentrum and Vanda. Depending on the parent species used in the crosses, orchids may be small or large. All are erect, with stiff spikes of flowers that range in color from yellow and green to pink, orange, and red, sometimes marked with contrasting colors. Yip Sum Wah (orange flowers) and Meda Arnold (pink to red flowers) are well-known grexes.


These natives of India and southeast Asia resemble miniature vandas, with opposing ranks of strap-shaped leaves and dense spikes of bright flowers that stand above the foliage mass. They thrive in cattleya conditions.

Ascocentrum curvifolium
Plants to 10 inches tall produce spikes that vary in color from purple to orange and red. This species was once known as Saccolabium curvifolium. Spring bloom.
Ascocentrum garayi
Four-inch plants produce spikes of bright orange red, inch-wide flowers at almost any time of the year. It is often sold as A.. miniatum, a similar but rarely grown plant. Bloom may occur at any time.

Euanthe sanderiana (Vanda sanderiana)

This Vanda relative (known as waling-waling in its native Philippines) is striking in its own right and valuable as a parent of many hybrids. The plants are large, with long leaves (to 16 inches) and erect spikes carrying as many as ten 4-inch flowers. These are broad and rounded; the upper part of the flower varies from white to rose and is marked by red dots; the lower portion is yellowish green heavily barred and spotted with brown. It has contributed its size, shape, and markings to a number of hybrids with Vanda and Ascocentrum. Fall blooming.

Neofinetia falcata

This tiny orchid from Japan and Korea grows 2 to 6 inches tall and branches from the base. Its leaves are ranked in opposing pairs, Aerides-fashion, and extend up to 4 inches. White half-inch flowers with long, thin spurs are borne as many as seven on a spike in spring and summer. They are fragrant in the afternoon and at night.


Like Aerides, these bear dense clusters of fragrant flowers and are sometimes called foxtail orchids.

Rhynchostylis coelestis
Eight-inch plants display erect clusters of white flowers tipped with blue, in summer and fall.
Rhynchostylis gigantea
Similar to R. coelestis, but with larger leaves and drooping, 15-inch clusters of white flowers tipped and spotted a deep purplish red. Blooms fall and winter.
Rhynchostylis retusa
Plants are up to 2 feet tall and have 2-foot drooping clusters densely packed with white, purple-spotted flowers. Spring and summer bloom.


This genus of small Vanda relatives is largely native to Australia, where for years its small size and attractiveness have made it a favorite with orchid hobbyists. Sarcochilus plants are becoming popular in North America, especially in climates such as that of coastal Southern California, where they can grow outdoors. Stems branch from the base, forming tufts or clumps. The flowers are small, fleshy, and have a short spur attached to the lip. All are cool growers.

Sarcochilus ceciliae
Grows to 5 inches, with six to a dozen 1/2-inch pink flowers on a spike just taller than the leaves. Autumn to winter bloom.
Sarcochilus falcatus
Called the orange blossom orchid, this forms dense 4-inch clumps of sickle-shaped leaves with arching clusters of fifteen 1-inch-wide white, highly fragrant flowers in late spring.
Sarcochilus fitzgeraldii
In Australia, this species is known as the ravine orchid. It is a relatively robust plant, growing to 2 feet. This orchid produces multiple spikes bearing as many as fifteen 1-inch-wide white flowers with red markings at the base. Spring bloom.
Sarcochilus hartmannii
This is a slightly smaller plant than S. fitzgeraldii, with clusters of six to twenty-five 1-inch white flowers marked with red. This orchid is a heavy bloomer, and is one parent of the superior hybrid Fitzhart. Both are spring bloomers.


Vandas are generally large plants with opposing ranks of flat, strap-shaped leaves and an ungainly abundance of aerial roots. Some of the species have terete (pencil-shaped) leaves; these have been assigned to the genus Papilionanthe. Most of the vandas are tropical, demanding full sun, warm temperatures, and high humidity. Outside of the humid tropics they need some shade. Plan carefully if you want to add vandas to your orchid collection; most are too large to use as house plants, and some would even strain the capacity of a small greenhouse.

Vanda coerulea
This much-desired plant grows 1 1/2 to 3 feet tall, stiffly upright on a thick stem. Closely set leathery leaves are 3 to 10 inches long. The upright or leaning inflorescence is 8 inches to 2 feet long and holds ten to twenty 4-inch flat, round flowers that range from pale to deep blue. Long-lasting flowers come at any time from fall to spring. Grow this vanda with cool growing orchids or in a cool corner of the cattleya greenhouse. This plant crossed with Euanthe sanderiana produced one of the more famous hybrids in orchid history, Vanda (properly Vandanthe) Rothschildiana, whose large blue flowers are checkered in a deeper blue.
Vanda (Papilionanthe) hookeriana
A vigorous, sprawling plant over 6 feet tall, it has terete leaves and flower clusters up to 1 foot long. These bear up to two dozen 2 1/2-inch white and purple flowers with a large lip. Fall blooming. Both this and V. teres are tough, hardy outdoor plants, but not beyond the tropics.
Vanda (Papilionanthe) teres
This sprawling terete-leafed plant is a constant producer of 2- to 4-inch white or cream-colored flowers blending to rose or red, with a red-spotted yellow lip. A hybrid between this vanda and V. hookeriana is V. Miss ]oaquim, widely grown in Hawaii as a cut flower and for leis.
Vanda tricolor
Three-foot plants display clusters of fragrant, 3-inch white or pale yellow flowers spotted with reddish brown. The lip is purple and white with reddish brown streaks. Vanda t. suavis (V. suavis) is similar, but its spots are fewer and are reddish purple in color.


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