Whether you're an orchid fancier or you're just thinking of growing an orchid or two, you can choose from many dozens of different orchid types. The butterfly orchid (Psychopsis spp. or Ondicium papilio) is especially unusual, with exotic flowers that resemble butterflies. They open on a bloom spike that can continue producing new flowers for a period of several years. The butterfly orchid only needs basic care with an occasional bit of special attention.
Temperature and Water
The butterfly orchid cannot tolerate temperatures below about 55 degrees Fahrenheit, so it's grown indoors in all parts of the United States except U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone 12, where it can grow outdoors year-round.
The plant is native to rain forests of South America and grows best when watered regularly during its growing season, from spring through early fall. Water the orchid whenever the top inch or two of mix feels dry to the touch, ensuring that water can drain freely from the pot. Never let it stand in a water-filled saucer because this can promote rotting of its roots. During winter, reduce watering to give the plant a rest, letting the mix dry almost fully between waterings.
Light and Humidty
A butterfly orchid tolerates a range of light levels but prefers natural light such as on a west- or south-facing windowsill. If it faces east or north and gets only moderate light, be sure that its mix doesn't stay constantly wet under these lower light conditions; if necessary, reduce the frequency of watering.
This orchid grows best when humidity is about 75 percent during its growing season. You can increase indoor humidity by misting the plant every day or two, and by placing the pot on a pebble-filled tray that contains water -- but keep the water level just below the top of the pebbles. Although the butterfly orchid likes high humidity, give it good air circulation by spacing it a foot or two from other plants, to discourage growth of fungus.
Fetilizing and Flowering
Fertilizing regularly during the growing season helps a butterfly orchid bloom. Use a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer such as a 20-20-20 formula, diluted to half strength, or about 1/4 teaspoon in 2 gallons of water; check your product label for specific directions. Apply fertilizer weekly during spring and summer, and don't allow fertilizer to collect and crystallize between the plant's new growths as they emerge. You can prevent this by flooding the plant with plain water every few weeks.
The butterfly orchid is unusual because new flowers continue developing on a single bloom spike, sometimes for several years. Allow spent flowers to fall naturally from the plant and don't trim back the empty spike; a new flower bud eventually appears just behind the spot on the spike that produced the old flower. The plant requires no regular pruning; simply remove any leaves that dry up and drop spontaneously from the plant.
If the mixture in the orchid's pot breaks down and becomes crumbly, or if it tends to stay soggy for long periods, it's a good idea to re-pot the orchid. Do this in spring, using a commercial orchid mix that contains charcoal to filter out contaminants in water and provide extra drainage. Don't increase the pot's size unless large roots are growing outside the old pot; the new pot must have drainage holes. If you want to re-use the old pot, disinfect it first by soaking it in a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water for 10 minutes, followed by a rinse in soapy water and then clear water. Push the plant firmly into the pot to ensure roots make contact with the new mix, setting the crown of the plant just below the top of the mixture.
The butterfly orchid is usually disease-free, provided its mix drains well and it's not kept overly wet for long periods. It might attract mealybugs, fluffy white insects that feed on leaves; destroy these by touching each one with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.
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