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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.