Having spent some time thinking about what flowering plant to add to or even start your plant collection, you have decided to go with the orchid.
But before fully committing to this decision, you’re curious as to the longevity of the orchid and are asking “do orchids grow back?” Or maybe you are just trying to determine the lifespan of an orchid so you can estimate the duration of your time that will be going into caring for the orchid you just got — this article is for you.
In the subsequent paragraphs, you will come to know just how long an orchid can live.
All About Orchids
Orchids are one of the world’s most diverse plants. With as many as 30000 different species and quite as many hybrids, the orchid outnumbers mammals at a ratio of about four to one.
This is not unsurprising as orchids have been found to grow in every habitat except glaciers; though most are found growing in the tropics. Orchids, in their natural habitats, are typically either epiphytic or terrestrial. Epiphytic orchids are those which, like a parasite, grow on other plants (that is a host).
Such a host is usually the bark of woody plants. But unlike parasites, epiphytic orchids derive their moisture and nutrient supply from absorbing rainfall and other organic materials that collect on their hosts. Epiphytes generally have no contact with the ground and derive structural support from their hosts.
Similar to epiphytic orchids are those which grow on rocks which are described as being lithophytes. Terrestrial orchids, on the other hand, grow on the ground and are therefore also referred to as ground orchids.
They derive their nutrients and support from the soil on which they are planted. Terrestrial orchids make up less than one percent of the total global orchid population and as such may not be quite as popular as their epiphytic siblings.
Despite this slight difference, all orchids are united by certain similarities that distinguish them from every other plant. These similarities include having: resupinate flowers (that is flowers grow in a twisted position), zygomorphic flowers (that is the flowers can be divided into two mirror parts), very small seeds, and fused stamens and carpels (that is the male and female reproductive parts of the flower).
Also, most orchids display either monopodial or sympodial growth patterns. Monopodial growth entails that the orchid plant’s stem grows vertically from a single bud and with leaves being added from the top.
Such orchids can grow quite lengthy and will reach several meters above the ground. Vanda, Vanilla and Phalaenopsis are examples of orchid species that are monopodial. Sympodial orchids, on the other hand, grow laterally or horizontally from a stem.
This horizontal stem of sympodial orchids is known as a rhizome and produces individual shoots as well as the plant’s roots. These individual shoots are what the orchid’s leaves grow out of. They also act as storage organs. Most orchids are sympodial. Examples include the Cymbidium, Cattleya, Oncidium, and Dendrobium.
Do Orchids Grow Back
Returning to the question as to whether orchids grow back, the answer is a definite yes. Most, if not all, orchids are perennial plants by nature.
A perennial plant can live for more than two years. They could similarly be described as plants that can survive over multiple seasons. A perennial plant will naturally not die after flowering.
A perennial plant could be herbaceous, woody, monocarpic (that is producing seeds only once in its lifetime), polycarpic (that is producing seeds and flowering multiple times in its lifetime), deciduous (that is shedding its leaves annually) or evergreen (that is having or producing leaves all year long).
Particularly, all orchids are perennial herbs but due to the diversity of its many species, they could also be evergreen, deciduous or polycarpic. that is, having or producing.
Generally, perennial plants such as the orchid possess certain specialized features that aid them in growing back from year to year. Some of these include bulbs, rhizomes, tubers, specialized stems, and a few others.
In the case of terrestrial orchids, the specialized features present in most species are tubers or rhizomes. Terrestrial orchids usually produce two tuberous roots of which one directly supports the plant growth while the other acts as a food reserve for wintry periods or other periods of dormancy.
Epiphytic orchids, on the other hand, possess a network of highly modified aerial roots which could be quite a few meters long. The older parts of the roots are covered by a kind of skin layer called a velamen which performs the function of absorbing atmospheric moisture or humidity as well as nutrients that collect on it for the plant.
It also protects the roots and the cells in it from water loss and damaging ultraviolet light as well as aid the plant in adhering to the substrate. The velamen is usually whitish – greyish and is made up of dead cells.
In some other epiphytic or terrestrial orchids, especially those which display sympodial growth, there could be the added presence of a pseudobulb. Pseudobulbs are bulbous enlargements of the stem which function as organs for the storage of moisture.
They are the structure out of which leaves of the orchid plant grow. They come in quite handy during dry seasons or seasons of drought and help the plant stay alive.
Having established that orchids are perennial plants and that perennial plants live for years on end, a question to ask will be what do orchids “grow back” from?
As with any other plant, if an orchid is completely uprooted, or most of its leaves or roots or other important parts are cut off, then it most certainly will die and never grow back. “Growing back” within the confines of this article relates to the possibility of an orchid reblooming again and again or merely just coming out of dormancy.
Dormancy in plants, generally, refers to temporary periods of reduced or no growth. It is usually triggered by changes in environmental factors such as temperature, rainfall, light supply, etc which signal to a plant that a period unsuitable for growth is onset.
Dormancy essentially helps to protect the plant from harsh environmental conditions. In some orchid species, dormancy is triggered by the temperature drop associated with winter and in such instance, the orchid plant may shed all its leaves and appear shriveled or somewhat dead.
This is known as true dormancy. In some other orchid species, the period of dormancy may not cause the plant to shed leaves and its above-ground parts remain green and healthy-looking. What is common to both kinds of dormancy is that the orchid cannot bloom during the period of dormancy.
Dormancy in orchids helps the plant rest and replace nutrients expended in flowering and may last from six to nine months.
Orchids are grown mostly for the beauty that is inherent in their blooms. Hence, an orchid going through dormancy might be a tad bit dreary.
To help your orchid “grow back” from this period of dormancy and flower again, you ought to know what particular orchid specie you have and apply the care and growth conditions specific to it. Generally, the following tips might be helpful.
- After all the flowers have dropped, cut off the flower spike completely if it has become discolored or an inch to the base if it is still green. In cutting the spike, a sterile blade is the tool of choice. Such a cut surface should be completely covered with fungicides to prevent fungal diseases from springing up. The ground cinnamon, as recommended by the American Orchid Society, can be used as an organic fungicide in place of synthetic chemical ones.
- Reduce the amount and times of watering to prevent overwatering. As dormancy entails zero or little growth, watering can take the form of misting every five to ten days. This ensures that the soil doesn’t become drenched and prevents root rot which is the likely effect of drenched soil.
- The plant can also be repotted to spur new growth. After all the flowers have dropped, the orchid plant may be moved into a slightly larger pot. It is recommended that bark-based potting mixes exclusively made for orchids are used in place of regular gardening soil. Repotting allows the orchid more space to grow its roots.
- The application of fertilizers should also be reduced during periods of dormancy and should only be increased at the point when leaves emerge. The orchids, as pointed out earlier, can store nutrients in their specialized parts and can sustain themselves on the stored nutrients during dormancy.
- The plant should also be placed in an area having a cooler temperature, typically between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. The plant should also have access to indirect sunlight or other artificial light until new flower spikes emerge.