Tips, Facts and Home Remedies

Ailments Culture Curiosity

by Ken Slump

Posted by Sys Admin over 2 years ago.

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Two Enthusiasts Share Ideas Concerning Orchids

AS I HAVE NOTED BEFORE, THE newsletter editor is often an unsung hero in most orchid societies. Only those who have served in that capacity can appreciate the challenge of producing an interesting, informative and entertaining publication month after month.

For the last six years, Dot Henley has ably filled those shoes for the Fort Lauderdale Orchid Society (FLOS) in Florida. The FLOS newsletter is eight pages each month, a size that cannot be filled simply with society news and speakers’ reviews. Even with a bit of photography and some contributions from society officers and committee chairs, Henley, like most newsletter editors, is faced with plenty of empty column space to fill in each issue.

And fill it she does. I have encountered few newsletters with more tips and home remedies than are found in the FLOS newsletter. Henley has a knack for ferreting out tidbits from many sources. All of them do not relate directly to orchids, yet they are of interest to orchid growers. Her background as a biology teacher seems to enable her to gather and share information that anyone with an appreciation for the natural world would enjoy.

She dutifully credits her sources, which span a range of printed and electronic media. In one recent newsletter, Henley included brief paragraphs on colors of clothing to avoid if you want to keep mosquitoes at bay, a brief review of a large descriptive book on all sorts of plants, insecticidal soap tidbits, brief facts about New Zealand’s orchids, a few Oncidiinae facts, a warning about a telephone scam, information on fragrant orchids, orchid pronunciation guidelines, Stanhopea information, basic orchid terms and vocabulary, and even notification of free classes available from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — plus more.

13 TIPS  Here is a baker’s dozen of useful suggestions for orchid growers from past newsletters:

  • Rather than expensive and potentially dangerous herbicides, spray full-strength vinegar to kill weeds between pavers and on greenhouse floors. (Do not spray on orchids.)
  • Clear or translucent plastic pots seem to encourage phalaenopsis orchids to send their roots into the growing medium rather than outside the pot; the green roots may also carry on photosynthesis.
  • To clean clay orchid pots more easily, add some detergent to a chlorine bleach solution. It will loosen the roots that cling to the pot, saving the need for scrubbing.
  • Aspirin (just three quarters of one 325 mg tablet per gallon of water) helps protect plants from fungal and viral pathogens when used as a spray. (Do not exceed this amount.)
  • Control fungus gnats in orchid medium by sprinkling the medium with cinnamon, which kills any fungus that attracts the gnats.
  • Homemade insecticide (mix in gallon jug): 1 pint rubbing alcohol, 1 pint 409 spray cleaner, 3 quarts water.
  • Red spider mite killer: In a blender, mix equal parts buttermilk and water to which you have added a few drops of dishwashing soap. Blend for 15 seconds, transfer to sprayer and spray all exposed parts of infected plants.
  • Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol can be put into an empty spray bottle and used to treat scale, mealybugs, thrips, aphids, red spider mites and perhaps other pests.
  • Neosporin can be used to treat orchid crown rot; remove rotted area of plant before treatment.
  • Keep the nozzles of your watering hoses off the ground, as they can pick up mold spores and bacteria more readily there; you will then shoot these across your orchid collection when you begin to water.
  • A teaspoon or two of Epsom Salt (magnesium sulfate) added to each gallon of fertilizer water will help prevent the red cast that shows up in the leaves of some cattleya hybrids in cold weather.
  • Rubbing alcohol will kill slugs if sprayed on them.
  • If slug damage is spotted, cut an apple into slices and place on top of the growing medium in the evening. The next morning, the offender will likely be attached to the apple. Remove the apple slice and slug promptly.

Tips and ideas such as these get passed among growers with regularity. Some of these you have likely heard before but I expect at least a few of them are new to you. Henley harvests them from any source she encounters and has noted in her newsletter that when using any new home remedy for pest or disease control it is a good idea to test the recipe on a few plants (pre-ferably not your favorites) before treating your entire collection.

FACTS AND FANCY  Henley collects and passes along lots of orchid factoids in her newsletter too. Many of these she credits to a couple of favorite books on orchid biology. Here are a few she has printed in recent years:

  • The heaviest orchid may be Grammatophyllum speciosum from Southeast Asia and New Guinea. A mass of 10-foot- (3-m-) tall pseudo-bulbs on a large plant may tip the scales at about a ton.
  • Among the tallest orchids are Dendrobium steatoglossum from New Caledonia or Selenipedium chica from South America. Both may reach heights of 16½ feet (5 m). Another candidate for tallest orchid is Sobralia altissima. 
  • Considering criteria for smallest orchid, Bulbophyllum globuliforme has pseudobulbs less than 1/8 inch  across, while certain species of Corybas may carry one leaf on a pseudobulb that is about 3/8 inch across.
  • Prizes for biggest and smallest orchid flowers might go to Sobralia xantholeuca, with 10-inch- (25-cm-) diameter flowers, or Paphiopedilum sanderianum, with its 40-inch (100-cm) twisted petals, while the blossoms of certain species in the genus Oberonia are among the smallest at just 1/25 of an inch.
  • Named the tapeworm orchid,  Taeniophyllum has flat roots with a segmented tapeworm appearance. The photosynthetic roots may be several yards long, and the leaves are just tiny scales.
  • In Australia, Rhizanthella gardneri is an orchid that lives underground. The flowers crack the earth’s surface long enough to emit a scent so that termites or gnats can crawl down to the buried flowers to fertilize them.
  • During the orchid craze of the late 19th century, orchids collected from around the globe were frequently auctioned in Europe. In 1890, Wilhelm Micholitz brought a plant back to his employer that caused quite a stir when it came to the auction block. The Dendrobium striaenopsis specimen was attached to a human skull.
  • Wild orchids are rather unevenly distributed over the planet. Only a few grow above the Arctic Circle; most species inhabit the tropics. Colombia has about 10 percent of the world’s approximately 35,000 species. Orchid species in Africa are not numerous, yet Madagascar, with just two percent of Africa’s land mass, is home to more orchid species than Africa.
  • In late 19th century Europe, a single orchid sold for $600,000 in today’s currency.
  • Guarianthe (syn. Cattleya) skinneri f. alba is recognized as a Christian symbol in South America. The first collected specimen was found growing in Guatemala on a chapel rooftop.
  • It is easy to see that Henley has a passion for nature and enjoys sharing her interest for orchids with others. She has been a tireless worker in several of South Florida’s orchid societies for many years and teaches classes for and volunteers at the American Orchid Society Visitors Center and Botanical Garden as well.


Those who particularly enjoy reading such bits of information or who are looking for potential newsletter filler might also seek a copy of Robert M. Hamilton’s The New Orchid Doctor: Remedies, Recipes, Recommendations and Referrals. Henley directed me to this publication on the library shelves at a recent FLOS meeting. It could take a bit of sleuthing to find a copy, as it was printed almost two decades ago.

  • Hamilton seems to enjoy gathering and collating information. In this small, encyclopedic volume he organized brief summaries and definitions of terms that are related to orchid growing. In the book he notes that his in-formation was collected from a number of respected publications and author-ities and credits the source of each entry.
  • While much of the book’s in-formation is still applicable, a few bits are representative of another hort-icultural era. It was gratifying, for example, to notice how many pesticides listed in the toxicity table are no longer available. Here is a sampling of the sort of entries he includes:
  • Age — expectations of plants = given proper culture, a sympodial orchid should live indefinitely — of individual plants = still in cultivation are various divisions of Paphio-pedilum Harrisianum, a hybrid awarded in 1869.
  • Corks (Wine) — recycled, as potting mix = whole corks are useful for potting thick-rooted vandaceous plants, and are good for drainage when pebbles are used in the bottom of the pot; they maintain a coarse open space when mixed with charcoal pieces or coconut fiber; roots attach to corks; show no preference for vintages or country of origin.
  • Disa — seed germination = almost fill a clean plastic container with pine sawdust, saturate it with water, firm the surface, dust the seed upon it, cover the top with clear plastic film held with a rubber band and place the container in a shallow tray of water; germination is rapid; when leaves show use a light liquid feed and remove film.
  • Flowers (cut) — to prolong life = place them in a container with a mix of half water and half 7-Up; the sugar and carbon dioxide provide readily assimilated nutrients.
  • Hair — as potting medium = collect a bagful at the men’s barber shop (women’s hair is too frequently treated with unsuitable chemicals), mix it with sphagnum moss and some perlite, charcoal and maybe some crushed shell for seedling culture.
  • Leads — broken off acci-dentally = the broken lead will not root itself with the aid of a hormone and should be discarded, as a new lead should develop beside it or below it.
  • Neem tree — source of a chemical used as pesticide = a natural product, has an active ingredient, asadirachtin, that repels insects, affects their feeding. 
  • Orchid growers — 10 commandments for them = 1. Learn basic culture. 2. Provide proper facilities. 3. Watch for creeping obsolescence. 4. Learn about diseases and pests. 5. Buy good stock. 6. Learn the names and watch the labeling. 6. Beware of gift plants. 8. Specialize. 9. Build a good library. 10. Join your local society.
  • Rest — for dendrobiums = as exemplified by Dendrobium Gatton Sunray, after growth is completed in the fall, allow the plant to dry for four to six weeks then give it a good soaking; if shriveling of canes does occur in the meantime, give it some water.
  • Restrepia — propagation from leaf cuttings = an unusual method is successful; cut the flowered leaves with a 2-inch (5-cm) stem and plant it, stems fully covered in tree fern/peat mixture or peat only. Keep the moisture level and humidity high and roots will take hold.
  • Seedpods (capsules) — how long to mature? = a few mentioned:  Sophronitis crosses take five to six months; Cattleya nine months; Phala-enopsis only three or four months.
  • Weeds — control in greenhouse = spray with 50 percent chlorox solution with a wetting agent; the elimination of oxalis, chickweed and mustard means fewer insects in the area. (Do not spray on orchids.)
  • Hamilton covers myriad topics in his exciting book. He directs readers to the source of each entry if they want to investigate the topic further. It is through the efforts of enthusiasts such as Henley and Hamilton that useful information about our favorite plants continues to be passed along.
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