Poisonous to Cats?

I am concerned about bringing orchids into my home and having my cats eat them. Are orchids poisonous? Henrietta B
Orchid hobbyists often refer to Cattleya orchids as 'Cats' but, in your case, the 'Cats' are furry animals whose playful nature can lead to trouble for the fragile décor. Everything about an orchid blossom is alluring - color, shape, fragrance - and cats are just as fascinated as we are.
Fortunately, there are strategies that pet owners successfully use to safeguard their indoor plants. The most popular technique is to hang the plants very high or place them on tall bookshelves out of reach of inquisitive paws. There are also effective cat repellants which can be sprayed in the general vicinity of the orchids (Be careful not to spray the plants themselves).
Though I have not taste-tested all orchid varieties personally, I am not aware of any that are poisonous. Dendrobium blooms, for instance, are often used as entrée garnishes at upscale restaurants and the world's most popular flavor, Vanilla, is derived from the seed pod of the Vanilla orchid.
I have complete confidence that both types of 'Cats' can live together under one roof with the help of a little planning.

What is the best way to get rid of insects on the undersides of orchid leaves? Barbara T
Orchids, like all tropical plants, are a tasty treat for a wide range of insects including aphids, mealy bugs, white scale, brown scale, and mites. Though usually not fatal, insect damage affects the plant adversely as the juices are sucked out of the leaves and flowers.
Once on the flowers, the bugs are almost impossible to remove due to the numerous hiding places within the intricate blooms. Best course of action at this point is to cut off the beloved orchid flowers.
Treating the leaves for infestations is easy. First choose a relatively safe method of attack. Horticultural oils, soaps, and waxes are effective because they smother the insect population, but one does have to be careful not to burn the leaves in the process (Read label directions carefully).
A sure-fire technique, which has been around for 50+ years, is to use a pyrethrum-based formulation that is derived from the chrysanthemum daisy. The active ingredient poisons the bugs on contact then rapidly decomposes. [We recommend Schultz Insect Spray which is available at most garden centers.]
Next, choose a warm day and take the infected plants outside in the shade. Then, spray the tops and bottoms of the leaves until dripping. When dry, bring the plants inside. Repeat this process once a week for month at which time you should have the upper hand on those voracious insects.
Where possible, try to prevent infestations from occurring by keeping your orchids a safe distance from other houseplants and closely inspecting any new orchids that are added to the collection.

I am a new grower and own two Phalaenopsis. One plant has bloomed twice this year with big pink flowers. My other plant has small flowers and droopy leaves yet I care for it the same way. Can you suggest anything? Kathy W.
Sometimes two orchids of the same genus, side by side on a windowsill and watered identically, will yield different results. This perplexing situation is brought about by the fact that no two orchid hybrids are genetically the same even if they are both from the same seed pod. Just like children, some will be bigger, stronger, or faster growing. Traits such as blooming frequency and flower size can be attributed solely to breeding lines.
Cultural issues are responsible for the droopy leaves, however. Specifically, the potting media must be the proper type and in good shape. Phalaenopsis do best in a moss type media, either sphagnum or peat, which tends to maintain an even dampness on the roots. Familiar orchid bark has air pockets between the chips and is perfect for many orchids but not Phalaenopsis whose leaves will go limp without constant moisture.
In addition, moss potting media that is older than a year or two no longer has wonderful growing properties. The light fluffy texture that once energized orchid roots turns into an unhealthy muck causing the roots to suffocate and the leaves to lose their rigidity. If in doubt, repot.

Monday, March 1, 2004 - 19:00