These fascinating epiphytic orchids come from a genus with close on 300 accepted species with more waiting to be described and, no doubt, many others still undiscovered. They are native from southeast Asia to New Guinea, and within that geographical region the Philippines, Sumatra and and Borneo have the lion's share of species. Botanical study in these regions can be difficult owing to unstable political conditions, but gradually, more and more species are being found.
They grow mainly in lower and upper montane cloud forests, where the trees on which they live are coated with moss due to the intense moisture levels in the low clouds. Once the sun burns off this moisture they are subjected to bright sunshine and strong winds associated with such high altitudes. It is important to remember how they grow in the wild in order to be successful with Dendrochilum cultivation in the home or in a greenhouse.
Very few Dendrochilum orchids are in cultivation and are, therefore, difficult to obtain and very expensive to buy, making it a particular disaster if the plant subsequently dies on you! Not all are suitable to be grown in pots, but instead require to be mounted on a board and then sprayed often. The ones that are grown in pots should not be watered from above and should be placed in a medium that retains moisture - fine bark mixed with sphagum moss, for instance. The pots should then be placed in a saucer of water which is continually topped up. The other essential factors in the successful cultivation of Dendrochilum orchids is that there should be plenty of air movement around them, and that those that grow in positions in the wild which are subjected to direct sunlight should get plenty of light. The former can be achieved by placing an electric fan in the vicinity of the plants and the latter by placing them in a warm and sunny position for at least part of the day. If you are fortunate enough to get hold of one of these wonderful orchids, we strongly advise researching the natural habitat of the species before deciding on where to place it and how to proceed with potting and watering. A particularly good source of information on the internet is: www.dendrochilum.com
Feeding Dendrochilum orchid plants with fertiliser is not recommended.
By far the best way to water evergreen orchids is to place them in a sink or other container of lukewarm water which comes up to the top of their pots. Because they are not growing in densely packed soil or compost, the water will easily rise up from the bottom of the pots and saturate the roots. The plants should be left for several hours, or overnight, and the watering should be repeated on a weekly basis (although most plants will easily survive a 10 interval if you are away). At the same time as watering, spray the leaves with a fine water mist. Feeding should be kept to a minimum and stepped up only once new growth or flower shoots appear. Never overdo it – food is not high on the agenda of survival for plants that live perched up in trees with their roots exposed!
Yes, we have many native wild orchids throughout Europe and around 30 species in the UK. Most of them are rare, endangered or in serious decline due to the destruction of their natural habitats. They will not survive being dug up and moved either to gardens and greenhouses or to window ledges. It is also an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act to dig up any wild plants without the landowner’s consent.
If you found this information helpful, we are sure you would also like books on the Wild Orchids of Wales, of The Burren, and of the Algarve. Author-signed copies are available here...
There are many local and national nature reserves where wild orchids can be seen at the right time of year, and the network of local Wildlife Trusts can advise you on the best time to visit and also arrange for you to take part in some of the many tours that they organise during peak flowering times.