I am hysterical. My 90 pound Briard dog just jumped up and knocked the orchids off the top shelf of my plant stand. He then ate all the leaves. Are orchids poisonous? Linda E.
With over 30,000 known species and hundreds of thousands of hybrids, the orchid family is quite large and diverse. Though I am not aware of any poisonous varieties, it would be difficult to make a blanket statement that all orchids are safe since testing each one would be nearly impossible (Perhaps an ambitious graduate student could take on this rather daunting project).
Searching internet databases yields only circumstantial evidence. The National Animal Poison Control Center (www.aspca.org) lists several dozen orchid types that are non-toxic and there are no orchids listed on the Cornell University Poisonous Plant Informational Database (www.ansci.cornell.edu/plants).
Of course, there is one orchid that is so universally cherished for culinary purposes that it resides in the kitchen cabinet of nearly every household.
Vanilla. This vine-like plant blooms with large cream-colored flowers and when pollinated, produces seeds which are distilled into the popular flavoring. 100% non-toxic.
My dog hasn’t died yet from the plants she has eaten. And she has the best selection available anywhere…….

What should I do with my orchid collection when I travel? My trips usually last a week or two. Diane H.
Seven days between waterings is usually not a problem. Fourteen days could be.
Orchids that have pseudobulbs such as Cattleyas, Dendrobiums, and Oncidiums, are better able to handle short periods of drought since they store water. Other types, such as Paphiopedilums and Phalaenopsis, literally begin to wilt if their media dries out. In all cases, the situation is aggravated by the presence of flowers which tends to put additional strain on any plant.
We normally instruct growers to water their plants once or twice a week depending on the size of the pot, type of media, etc. A two week excursion to Paris could spell trouble for the collection and quite possibly cause irreversible damage to the lady slippers and moth orchids.
One trick that has been used successfully is to place each pot in a saucer of ¼” - ½” water – just enough to keep the pot damp and media slightly moist but not enough to drown the roots. Another idea is to put all the plants outside (they should be there already) and assume that it will rain a few times. In desperation, a neighbor could be employed to water the plants but this technique has had mixed results – the downside being that the two of you may never speak again if things go south.

I attended the orchid show a few weeks ago and bought a plant marked Vuyl Aloha Passion. What kind of orchid is this? Martha M.
With most houseplants, the botanical name on the label should yield some answers regarding culture but, of course, orchids are the exception. Regrettably, the nomenclature surrounding these tropical wonders is so confusing that even the experts have to carry around reference manuals.
There are over 500 abbreviations for orchid genera with new ones being created all the time.
Common genera such as Miltonia and Odontoglossum are easily understood and shortened to Milt and Odm respectively. When the two are bred together, the resulting progeny are also easy to figure out - Odontonia  (Odtna). But from here on, the nomenclature requires a lookup table. Using our example, combining an Odontonia hybrid with a Cochlioda now becomes Vuylstekeara or Vuyl. This new wording system appears almost random and certainly can’t be understood through ordinary means.
Other abbreviations that might be familiar but have cryptic derivations are Colmanara (Colm), Beallara (Bllra), and Wilsonara (Wils). Obviously, a lookup table is required to translate these unintelligible words into something useful.  
All the orchid genera that have been mentioned are loosely grouped in the Oncidium family and grow best in filtered light while watering once or twice a week. Since the Vuylstekeara hybrid contains the traditionally cool growing Miltonia, care should be taken not to expose the plant to the full summer heat.

Thursday, June 1, 2006 - 18:15