What makes an orchid an orchid? Maria C.
The botanical structure of the flower sets orchids apart from all other plants. Every orchid bloom has 3 sepals and 3 petals that alternate around the center though some of these parts are modified and not easily recognizable. The lower petal is called a lip and is quite dramatic in comparison - either in color or size, and can be fragrant. Projecting from the center is a club-shaped column which is a combination of male and female reproductive organs.
Insects are 'lured' to the center of the flower where they deposit the pollen onto the stigma. If successfully fertilized, a seed capsule will form and contain, perhaps, one million seeds. (Note - growing orchids at home from seed is practically impossible and should only be attempted by the most extreme orchid addicts.)
The orchid family is the largest of the flowering plants with nearly 30,000 naturally occurring species and hundreds of thousands of man-made hybrids. The plants can be as small as a fraction of an inch and as large as 10 feet tall. Orchids are monocots and are broadly related to tropical plants such as bananas and palms.

My boyfriend keeps buying orchids that look beautiful but they never bloom again! Do orchids need a lot of sun? What are the general guidelines? Sonja E.
Keep the boyfriend. Any guy who habitually buys orchids for his girl not only appreciates the finer things in life but is well trained.
As for the orchids: Some like filtered sun while others prefer low light. Almost all like to be outside during the summer. For example, Dendrobiums and Oncidiums do well in a diffused south facing window from October to April then outside either hanging from a tree or under a trellis from May to September. Phalaenopsis and Paphiopedilums (Lady Slippers) must have a bright but indirect exposure window during the colder months then outside during the summer in shade. Additionally, Phals must be covered to protect them from rain water sitting in the axels of the leaves.
The trick will be to determine what kind of orchid just arrived at the door and make the necessary adjustments in growing conditions. With any luck, there will be a plant tag in the pot to help with identification. General orchid types can usually be determined just be looking at the leaves. Dendrobiums have tall cane-like pseudobulbs while Oncidiums grow short oval ones. Phals and Paphs have no pseudobulbs at all - only leaves - with Lady Slippers being small, clumpy, and, sometimes, mottled.
Most importantly, we want to reward the boyfriend for his generosity and hope that the orchids keep coming..... 

I have a healthy Phalaenopsis that is currently blooming. I have noticed that the aerial roots have shriveled up and the new leaf is quite small compared to the other ones. Is something wrong? Anita K.
Very often, Phalaenopsis get a little 'tired' near the end of their blooming period. After all, they have been supporting as many as a dozen flowers for months while receiving little care from their owners other than a simple watering once a week. Eventually, the plants start to go downhill and, in extreme cases, they can actually bloom themselves to death trying to please everyone.
Intervention is required. Early warning signs are: aerial roots shriveling up, new leaves appearing stunted, and, the most obvious clue, existing leaves getting limp. Through all of this, the flowers may still look great.
At this critical juncture, it is paramount that the flower stem be removed so that the plant can rest. (Those blooms will still look great in a vase for another week or two). The next step would be to repot the plant so that it can grow new leaves and roots in preparation for next year's blooming.

Sunday, May 1, 2005 - 18:15