I won an oncidium hybrid at a local orchid society raffle and it seems to be potted in small clay balls. What is this? Sue A.
One of the exciting facets of orchid clubs is the multitude of growing techniques found among the members. Twenty hobbyists may grow their plants twenty different ways yet all be successful. Orchids are the ultimate survivors – able to withstand ever-changing cultural conditions – and bloom faithfully for their owners.
‘Small clay balls’ are actually Lightweight Expanded Clay Agregate (LECA), which is used by some growers because the media never decomposes – thus reducing the need for re-potting. The shape and size of the material is uneven which provides good support for orchid roots. The product is a special type of clay that has been pelletized and fired in a high temperature kiln – thus eliminating any pathogens. LECA is most commonly used with semi-hydroponic orchid care.
Plants grown using this media will respond similarly to those in lava rock or fresh bark chips – and require thorough watering twice a week. The clay has no nutritional value so regular fertilization is necessary. Re-potting involves pouring the pebbles into the pot rather than the traditional ‘packing’ the media tightly.
While on a recent vacation, I ate at a fancy restaurant and was served an entrée which had an orchid flower as a garnish. Is this really edible? Betty P.
Cooking and garnishing with flowers is gaining popularity these days and restaurant chefs and innovative home cooks are incorporating the colorful petals into their meals. Many flowers are edible but many are not and it is not always easy to identify which is which. Dandelions, Rose petals, and Pansies are common edible garnishes.
The most famous orchid of all time, Vanilla, is used as a flavoring. It is the seeds rather than the petals that are distilled into this tasty extract. The colorful Dendrobium blooms that make Hawaiian Leis are routinely floated in tropical drinks and enhance the presentation of anything culinary.
Generally speaking, while orchids are enjoying the top spot among indoor flower enthusiasts, the plants are not being raised commercially for human consumption and are, therefore, exposed to strong fertilizers and pesticides. In addition, though no poisonous orchid has ever been identified, it is not possible to “taste test” the hundreds of thousands of orchid hybrids on the market today. Err on the side of caution and simply enjoy the visual beauty of the petals on your plate.
I’ve seen Phalaenopsis plants with marbled leaves instead of solid green. Is this a virus? Rachel W.
There are three naturally occurring species in Asia which have lovely marbled foliage – P philippinensis, P schilleriana, and P stuartiana. Any modern hybrid bred from one of these species has the possibility of acquiring this desirable trait. Public demand for attractive foliage is high since nine months out of the year, there are no pretty flowers on Moth orchids to look at.
An easy way to tell the difference between marbled and virus infected leaves is to notice the uniformity of the markings. Marbled will have a consistent pattern from leaf to leaf instead of being random or streaky. Also, viruses tend to drain the plant of vigor which may result in stunted or limp foliage as well as a weak flowering.