Habenaria rhodocheila


I was given a plant of Habenaria rhodocheila in full bloom. It is a really beautiful orchid and I would like to see it bloom again next year. Now that the flowers have faded, how do I care for it? —Captain G.P. Woodward

Habenaria rhodocheila. photo © 2009 G. Allikas


Habenarias have been promoted as being among the most difficult orchids to grow. Yet if one pays particular attention to their general needs, they are actually one of the easiest. The most important key to their culture is watering. Asian species of Habenaria go through a definite monsoon-type growing season. They are developed from corms that go totally dormant in the parched soil of their native habitat, so parched that the soil is rock-hard and cracked. In the early spring, the rains soften the soil and spark the Habenaria into new growth. The plants are now kept in a constant state of wetness, growing at amazing rates until midsummer. At the point when the rosettes of leaves seem to be slowing down, this is the time to watch for emerging flower spikes from the center of the rosette. The plant should still be kept continuously moist until the last flower has fallen off. At this point, the plant must still be watered, but allowed to dry slightly between waterings. This is done because the plant is now producing new corms for next year's growth under the soil.

Now comes the hard part. When the foliage starts to become spotted and looks as if it is dying, stop watering the plant. Give no water at all. We put our awarded plants on top of an electrical service panel where it is guaranteed they will not receive any water, even accidentally. Repot in dry mix at this time. Then around February to March, take a look every week and see if anything is poking up through the top of the soil. If it is, water it. If not, put it back. An occasional misting by the middle of April can spark the plant if no signs of growth are present. Habenarias purchased as bare-root corms should not be planted until April, as the damp soil mixes will start growth and alter their growth cycle unfavorably. The preferred mixes are any of the soilless blends, such as ProMix HP. —Joe Palermo