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It can take up to three months for a stem to fully emerge and send out buds that will open into flowers.

from between the leaves. The roots are fleshy and covered in a shiny, silvery coat- ing called velamen, a spongy substance that absorbs nutrient-rich water. These roots will often reach beyond the pot, looking for air and moisture while inte- rior roots find purchase in the potting medium to anchor the plant When healthy, the roots will be silvery

and fleshy and fat. If over watered or otherwise badly treated, roots shrivel and may turn dark. Flower spikes

As mentioned, flower spikes emerge

between the leaves, not at the base of the plant. They look like little fingers – some people say mittens – and it takes up to three months for a stem to fully emerge and begin to send out chubby buds that will eventually open into the beautiful flowers that reward us for all our hard work. Flower spikes in the wild can be sever-

al meters long, with flowers emerging all along the spike. One variety has the parsimonious habit of clinging to its blossoms once they have been pollinat- ed. Then they turn green and help the rest of the plant with photosynthesis. In our homes, of course, there are no

pollinators, one reason the flowers last so long – six to 10 weeks and in some species, even months.

Flowers with speckled, mottled, pointed or striped petals are more rare.

Pruning flower spikes When the blooms finally expire you

are faced with a number of choices: one, do nothing. The plant may re-bloom from the same stem or the stem might turn brown and dry out in which case cut it back to the base. Two: cut the stem back to just below the first bloom but above a node. The plant may send out a blooming branch from this spot. Three: Cut the stem all the way back. Now its resting time and most phals

will bloom again, all conditions being right, months later. Expect blooms at least once a year and if you are lucky, maybe twice.

Humidity Where phals grow wild it is general-

ly much more humid than our houses where the humidity hovers around 30 per cent in winter compared to the natural habitat where the humidity is generally in the 40 to 70 per cent range. You can help by growing them in the kitchen, or on a water filled tray of pebbles. One successful grower keeps her plant in an old fishbowl with a layer of pebbles and water on the bottom, creating a terrarium effect. Re-potting

Phals resent being repotted and

may sulk for a few years after you give them a new home. So re-pot every seven years or so or when the roots are wildly overflowing the pot or when the potting medium breaks down. Most commercial growers sell phals in sphagnum moss, but they do better in coarse fir bark which lets in lots of air and provides good purchase. More help

If you have other questions or need

more help go to everythingorchids. com or, which also produces a free newsletter you can sign up for. Just one word of caution: phals can

become addictive and worse can be the gateway flower to even greater orchid addictions. Grow at you own risk! 

Dreaming 2016 • 27

Photo by Fidler Jan.

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