Shipping Orchids


I received a Cattleya orchid in the mail that was supposed to be in bud or bloom and there is nothing but leaves! Where are the flowers?! What can be done? Ronald S.


Shipping orchids in the mail is a little tricky. It requires some clever packing techniques and considerable knowledge of botany to be successful. In addition, the shipping company and the weather both have to cooperate.

Tall growing orchids such as Dendrobiums and Oncidiums seem practically indestructible – the entire plant (leaves/buds/flowers) can be wrapped in newspaper and thrown in a box. Phalaenopsis, on the other hand, have delicate foliage that is easily cracked and must be folded with care. Puffy buds must be individually ‘fluffed’ in cotton to survive.

Cattleyas are the most challenging of all. The buds are so fragile that the plant must be shipped with the buds inside the sheath – before they emerge and are exposed to harsh elements. Upon first glance, the plant appears to have only leaves since the buds are not visible without holding the sheath up to the light and seeing the silhouettes.

Within a week, buds emerge and start to swell… each day, a little bigger. Finally, the buds open, revealing the most beautiful flowers in the horticultural world – something adorned first by European royalty in the 1800’s, then by three decades of fashion conscious corsage bearing ladies in the United States, and now by growers around the globe who have reached the pinnacle of their hobby.


I recently brought a miniature cattleya indoors for the winter. I have owned it for years but now it has some funky lesions on the leaves. Is this a viral infection and, if so, should I toss it? Fran C.


Unsightly marks on leaves are common with plants that live outside for the summer. Hostile elements ranging from high winds to baking sun to insect damage account for most of the damage. Occasionally a true virus appears which may have been transmitted by an infected insect, plant, or unsterile gardening tool.

One method often used to validate the diagnosis is to retain the plant for another year and see what develops with the new leaves. If the foliage grows out ‘clean’ – i.e. no blemishes then the damage was likely cosmetic. If, however, those ‘funky lesions’ appear again, then it’s a good bet that the blood stream of the plant contains the virus.

The question of whether to throw out a virused plant is solely the decision of the owner. Viruses are contagious so most hobbyists avoid contaminated stock. However, there is a sentimental quality to orchids that make some owners keep sickly plants - especially if the virus is ‘mild’ and does not affect the flowers. Also breeders may keep virused ‘stud’ plants and ripen the ‘dry seed’ to the point that the powder literally fall out of the pod – thus making it virus free.


I’ve had a Doritis for years but it hasn’t bloomed since 2004. It makes lots of roots and babies. I have it on my screened-in porch facing south. What should I do? Susan T.


Doritis is a close relative of the ever popular Phalaenopsis and plays an important role in today’s orchid breeding. The flowers are not particularly exciting – typically diminutive clusters of sequentially blooming lavender on the tops of overly tall stems. However, when Doritis is bred with a standard Phal, something magical happens – the resulting intergeneric hybrid, Doritanopsis, boasts robust sized intensely dark purple blossoms that last for months.

Doritis leaves are much thicker, narrower, and tougher than Phals and the ‘babies’ (or Keikis) can be cut off and individually planted or left on the mother to make a specimen plant. Since Doritis is a summer bloomer, the traditional chilling period associated with Moth orchids is not necessary.

A common mistake that novices make is growing a Doritis like a Phal – using a moss-based potting media when, in fact, seedling fir bark performs best in this climate. If this plant hasn’t bloomed in years, one might consider re-potting – a process that often stimulates new growth including flowers spikes. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011 - 17:30