Every once in a while, an orchid produces a floral display that stops people in their tracks. A Dendrobium boasting six long spikes, an Oncidium touting a dozen branches, or a lady slipper developing four blossoms. While all the popular genera are capable of this sort of fire power, it seems to rarely happen. Here are the factors that have to come together to make the perfect storm:
The plant must be genetically predisposed for vigor, which, in most cases, requires that superior parents were used in the breeding. The best seedling would then have been selected from thousands and cloned in a laboratory – a 10 to 15 year process. Most orchids sold commercially today fall into this category.
When a plant blooms for the first time, the newest growth is immature and may only produce a few buds. It takes several more years before the leaves, roots, and flowers are really cranking. Like teenagers, it takes a little while for orchids to hit their stride!
Even a mature, well-bred orchid will not live up to its potential if not given the ideal conditions. The plant must be potted correctly using proper media. For many genera that means replacing the sphagnum moss every year or two. In addition, all the culture aspects must be provided including: having gentle air circulation, keeping at least 50% humidity, offering filtered sunlight, maintaining warm temperatures, and not letting the media get bone dry.
Even when everything is done correctly, it still takes a little serendipity for your plant to deliver that jaw-dropping performance. A slug doesn’t nibble off the flower spike. The buds don’t get caught in the leaves and break off. Or, heaven forbid, your plant gets a contagious virus. A little patience goes a long way, and orchid growers frequently say “Well, there is always next year.”