This plant species originates from South-East Asia, the Philippines and Australia. In the wild Phalaenopsis particularly grows in trees without drawing nutrients from the tree. In addition to trees, this orchid also grows wild in heavily aerated soil such as humus, and on rocks and in crevices, usually close to rivers and streams. The genus Phalaenopsis was described in 1825 by the Dutch botanist Dr C.L. Blume, who worked at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Buitenzorg (now called Bogor) on the island of Java. The story goes that during one of his trips he saw a group of butterflies floating almost motionless beside a tree. These turned out to be orchids, which he later called Phalaenopsis amabilis. ‘Amabilis’ means ‘charming’ and the genus name ‘Phalaenopsis’ means ‘like a moth’, derived from the Greek word ‘Phalaina’ (moth) and ‘opsis’ (resembling).
Phalaenopsis is available all year round from florists and garden centres and sometimes also from DIY stores and supermarkets. There are small-flowered species - also called multiflora - with a lot of small flowers as well as standard species. There are also large-flowered species - grandiflora - with flowers which are at least ten centimetres across. Phalaenopsis occurs in white, yellow, pink and purple and there are also species with unusually shaped and marked flowers.
The Phalaenopsis must be placed in a spot where there is sufficient light, but avoid direct sunlight, particularly in the summer months. If the leaves turn yellow this can be a sign of too much direct sunlight. The shedding of buds or dark-green leaves points to a possible lack of light. Phalaenopsis also dislikes draughts, and the plant should not be placed right next to a radiator. Phalaenopsis is most comfortable at a temperature of between 20 °C and 22 °C. The minimum temperature is 16 °C and the maximum temperature is 32 °C. Phalaenopsis flowers for a long time: several weeks and often even months.
Pour water onto the soil in the pot, and not into the heart of the plant. The water needs to be at room temperature. Rain water is better than tap water which contains (too much) lime. Preferably water early in the day. Even better is to immerse the pot in a bucket for a minute. Allow the plant to drain thoroughly after immersing - this will allow the excess water to run off. The orchid can then easily go seven days without water. In the winter months when the heating is on, it is a good idea to spray the plant with water regularly in order to ensure that the humidity does not drop too low.
Feed the plant about twice a month with special orchid food (in the water) between March and October. The Phalaenopsis can grow aerial roots outside the pot. Leave these roots in place: they are a sign that the plant is happy. After pruning place the plant in a cooler spot. The ‘cooling’ will encourage the formation of new branches. After about two months the plant can be returned to its old place. After pruning give the plant less water. When the plant is returned to its old spot after about two months, you can return to normal watering.
To get the plant to flower again you need to cut the branch off above the second ‘eye’. This is a thickening of the branch. Start by counting from below. You can prune the branch above the second eye twice, after which it is a good idea to cut the branch as low as possible. The plant can flower again after six months.