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Phalaenopsis, butterfly-shaped orchids
They are the most famous and widespread orchids, in Italy there are dozens of hybrids, with large flowers, tiny flowers, of the most disparate colors, generally in shades of pink, but without completely forgetting yellow and orange; the phalaenopsis, whose name means butterfly-shaped flower, are among the most appreciated orchids, for their prolonged and abundant flowering, but also for their ease to adapt to the strange climate present in our homes. They are orchids without pseudobulbs, epiphytes, with a short rhizome from which long and thick aerial roots branch off, accustomed to living in contact with air and light rather than in the ground, so that their bright green color proves aptitude for chlorophyll photosynthesis. From each rhizome small clumps of large leathery, rigid, oval leaves are produced, with showy central veins that mark them in half, of a beautiful dark green color, shiny and healthy, very beautiful even when they do not accompany the flowers; between the leaves in spring a thin dark stem rises, which bears 8-10 showy flowers, with bright colors, very decorative, which bloom in succession and last on the plant for a few weeks. If the floral stem is not cut when the flowers have withered, the plant tends to produce branches of the same, from which new buds are produced in autumn. Generally after this second flowering it is advisable to remove the floral stem, which often tends to dry up on its own, to favor the development of a new scape the following spring. The flowers are very durable, they are also used as cut flowers, because they stay fresh for a few weeks, even after being cut from the plant; the long stems that carry them are in nature well arched and sometimes pendulous, in the nursery they are stiffened with small sticks, to make them stand erect, if we want a plant with a more natural appearance we can raise wings and let the inflorescence fall down.
This orchid comes from Asia, from tropical areas, like the islands present in the Indian Ocean and in the Pacific, where it develops among the rai of trees, it is therefore an epiphytic plant; this means that the roots are used to living in the humid air of tropical forests. In the apartment these plants find their place in a well-lit area of the house, without direct sunlight, which could ruin the leaves; if placed in an excessively bright place the leaves tend to become of a sad light green, yellowish color. Then we place the plants near a window, or in any case in an area with filtered light, in greenhouses, for example, they are placed in an area with white-glazed windows, so as to shield most of the direct sunlight. They prefer small pots, generally in transparent plastic, so as to allow the roots to enjoy the light, and to control that the substratum does not dry out excessively or remain wet too long; plants can be repotted every 2-3 years, and do not require excessively frequent repotting. A substrate for orchids is used, incoherent and porous, consisting of bits of sphagnum peat, shredded barks, sometimes even pieces of other materials such as wood or balsa; the substratum of these plants is very light and not very consistent, and often it happens to have to fix the plant to the vase with a metal jumper.
Watering will be quite regular, so as to avoid leaving the substratum and the roots completely dry for a long time; the best method to water these plants is immersion: the pot is completely immersed for a few minutes in water, possibly not calcareous, left to drain and repositioned in its place; we repeat this operation when we notice that the pieces of bark are dry. It is important to maintain a good environmental humidity around the plant, often vaporizing the leaves and keeping the vase in a vase holder full of clay, with at least a couple of centimeters of water, so that it evaporates freely and constantly. During the winter months the plants may require less watering, but we always try to keep the ambient humidity high, especially when the heating system is active. The orchids must be fertilized from March until September, using a special fertilizer, to be added to the water in which we make the "bath" to the vase, in small doses, every 15-20 days.
Propagate the phalaenopsis
The seeds of orchids are tiny and difficult to treat, so only the true enthusiasts of these plants can try their hand at sowing, and perhaps first in attempts at hybridization; for ordinary mortals, phalaenopsis often produce keiki: they are miniature plants, providing rhizome, small roots and leaves, which often develop on floral stems, or on the sides of the head of leaves of the mother plant; these small plants can be removed without problems and repotted as single plants. § Let us not be intimidated by small dimensions, and cultivate a keiki like a common phalaenopsis already large, with regular watering, little fertilizer and a good brightness; however, avoid placing a keiki in a huge vase, because the plant will tend to fill it with leaves and roots before deciding to give us a new bloom.
Phalaenopsis: Adversity of phalaenopsis
Although they are easy to cultivate, it happens that even a phalaenopsis gets sick, stops flowering, has yellow leaves; in general parasites and diseases come when the climate and cultivation conditions are not ideal. Often these plants are attacked by cochineal and mites, especially when they are at home, because the air is excessively dry, or because, fearing to ruin the plant, we have placed it in an excessively sheltered place, without air exchange; generally a normal insecticide eradicates the insects quickly, and in the case of scale insects it is often sufficient to remove them and increase the environmental humidity. The roots often become gray or white, with a silvery aspect, this happens because the velamen, the layer that covers them, dries up; root desiccation can occur due to poor watering and low environmental humidity, or even excess salt in the soil, so we are either over-fertilizing, or the water we supply to the plant is too limestone; we suspend the fertilizations for a while and use rainwater or decanted water. The leaves of phalaenopsis are the mirror of the health of the plant: small leaves in small numbers are probably the symptom of scarce fertilization; yellow or green leaves, but well turgid and rigid, are the symptom of a strong excess of luminosity; very dark colored leaves show poor exposure to sunlight; floppy foliage, which tends to turn yellow, tells us that the plant is suffering from excessive watering, or an excessively cool climate.