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I’m finding that my post about how to identify whether you have an orchid spike or a root is my most viewed post by far. For example, just in the past week, my spike* vs. root post has been viewed nearly 6x as many times as my second most viewed post of the week. Clearly, “is it a root or is it a spike?” is a big question for new orchid owners!

So in the interest of helping orchid growers out even more, I decided to do another post on this topic, this time with LOTS of photo examples to help better illuminate what a root looks like and what a spike looks like. If you haven’t read my original post, I recommend doing so before you dive into this one. All the below photos are of orchids in my own collection. Because you’ll see more roots growing from your orchid than spikes, let’s begin with root pics:

Two roots emerging from the base of a Phalaenopsis

Roots growing from an Oncidium

Bollopetalum putting out loads of new roots

Existing roots + new root on a Phal

Phal root on left, growing from between leaves—spikes often also grow from there

Phal root

Now, let’s move on to some photos of orchid spikes. Most of these are my Phalaenopsis (moth) orchids that have spiked in the past,  but I’m throwing in a couple of my other orchid species as well.

Tiny spike nub currently emerging on this Phal!

A different Phal’s spike—if you look very closely, you will see a “mitten shape” indicative of spikes

This Phal put out a purple spike rather than a green one

A Phal spike that has grown long enough to be staked

Phal spike approximately 1″ in length

Look hard: Dendrobium spike just beginning to peek out between leaves

Zygopetalum spike growing out of the left side of the pseudobulb

A spike peeks out from an Oncidium pseudobulb

A slender Oncidium spike

And I’ve saved what might be the best for last; a current photo (taken this morning) of one of my Phalaenopsis orchids that shows both a new root AND a new spike!

The new root is on the left (growing down), the new spike is on the right (growing up)!

I really hope these photos make it easier for you to figure out whether your orchid is putting out a root or a spike! Like I always say, visuals are the best way to learn about orchids. Please feel free to ask me questions in the comments. And to start receiving orchid care tips via email, I recommend signing up for the free Orchids Made Easy newsletter from Ryan “The Orchid Guy.”

Happy orchid growing, everyone!

*What’s a spike? Check out my glossary of orchid terms!

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57 Responses to “How to Recognize Orchid Roots and Orchid Spikes, Part Deux: Photos!”

  1. Joyce Heiman says:

    Good visual — very helpful. When I am not sure what the growth is I try to compare to existing roots to see if similar. If not and it is reaching up I usually think it is a spike. Sometimes it takes time for me to be sure.

  2. Your fantastically concise photography is enormously helpful in distinguishing between roots and spikes of orchids. And that information is essential for orchid growers, particularly when the time comes for re-potting their plants.

  3. Sean says:

    Thank you!
    I love seeing an update here.
    I’m at the point of knowing the basics, but I always love seeing such great photos. Great light too.

  4. Rina says:

    what about epiphytic orchids like Tiger Orchid, do they have roots? And how do they cling onto the host?

  5. Oni says:

    Quick question on the zygo, Does the spike come from between the leaves like the oncidium or on the side. I’m desperately awaiting mine to flower after a few years and see signs of what is possibly another bulb.

    • Hi there — zygo spikes come from between the leaves on the side of the pseudobulb. New pbulbs usually grow from the base of an existing pbulb and not from between the leaves. Good luck with your zygo! I have one that I’m dying to see spike as well.

  6. Karen says:

    Does it hurt the plant to trim off some of the roots that are hanging outside the pot, or should they all be left on? Thanks…

    • Hi Karen, definitely leave the roots on the plant. The more roots, the better! They need all the roots they can get in order to get enough water and nutrition. If these roots (called “aerial roots”) dry out a lot between waterings, you can spray them with some water once every day or every other day. Happy growing!

  7. [...] I’ve published a second post about orchid roots vs. spikes, with lots of photos to illustrated the difference. Click on over here to check the photos out. [...]

  8. Alice says:

    This was very informative but with the aerial roots when I repot should I leave then out or put them in the pot too?

    • You can try to put the aerial roots inside the pot, but be very careful with them because they can bend and snap off very easily. It can help if you soak them in water for a little bit so that they become more pliable, but proceed with caution. If they don’t bend easily enough to go inside the pot, it’s fine to leave them out. Good luck with repotting!

  9. Nwe says:

    Hi,

    Then how to differentiate spike & basal keiki? Both are very similar in the beginning.

  10. Gaye Pam says:

    Hi I have a phalaenopsis that has 6 new roots how long before a flower spike appears?
    It also looks a bit cramped so whe would a good time be to repot?
    i live in south africa and we are in the middle of our Summer
    Please could you advise me

    Regards
    Gaye Pam

    • Hi there! Phals actually do like to be pretty pot-bound, but if the plant is starting to look really top heavy and roots are continually growing outside the pot, I’d say it’s time to put into a bigger pot.

      I’m not sure when Phals bloom in South Africa, though this time of year in the U.S. Phals are in their blooming season. I believe this has to do with the cooler temperatures at night, which encourage the plants to spike. I recommend googling “phalaenopsis blooming south africa” or something along those lines, and you should be able to find blogs that have good info about what to expect when growing in that part of the world. Good luck and happy growing!

  11. Jamie Cervantes says:

    Hello, i have a question and could use some good advice. I have an Phal orchid that expired the flowers on it’s stem and then branched a new stem from the old one. My question is, where do i cut the old stem? Should I cut it back to where the new stem has branched off, or cut only the dead part of the old branch off? Also, one of the leaves has fallen off, should i be concerned that maybe my plant is stressed? What can i do if it is? I would greatly appreciate any advice to help my plant. Thank you. :)

    • You can cut the spike (stem) back to just above where the new stem that branched off. Once that side stem has finished blooming, you should cut the spike down at the base of the plant.

      Orchids do naturally lose leaves over time, but left loss could mean that the plant is not happy. Have you taken the plant out of its potting medium to check the roots? If not, I recommend doing this and trimming away any roots that are rotten/hollow/mushy.

  12. HELENA says:

    Hi, another South African trying to figure out what to do next with my plants!!I’ve got 4 Phals, 2 new ones that are in bloom and the other 2 was in bloom last year August. I heard that a Phal usually blooms the same time each year, and am now expecting to have flowering plants all year long since they are blooming in diffirent seasons??
    My question is: one of the plants have LOTS of aerial roots, and I’m waiting anxiously for a spike(but nothing yet), I know I should repot during spring, but that”ll be September and I’m scared that if I repot now, I’ll lose any chance of getting a new spike since the plant should be blooming in 2-3 months??
    Thanks for all the info!

  13. admintones says:

    Great visual aids there! Super to have found such a wonderful and informative blog.. I may be back with questions and images for your help.. I hope thats OK?

  14. admintones says:

    Question: If my orchid (Phal) is having roots growing out of the pot but has a spike, should I re-pot or wait?

    • The roots growing out of the pot are referred to as aerial roots, and they are perfectly normal. You’ll want to mist them with water a few times a week to help keep them from drying out between waterings.

  15. Vanessa says:

    Great photos- thanks! Question: When those roots are emerging fairly high, what do u do with them? Are all the roots supposed to be covered by planting medium?
    Big time novice orchid mom

    • Hi Vanessa, roots growing out of the pot are referred to as aerial roots, and they are perfectly normal. You’ll want to mist them with water a few times a week to help keep them from drying out between waterings. Don’t try to bend them to fit them inside the pot, as this will most likely just break them off…they are pretty fragile. Good luck!

  16. Pebbles says:

    Hi, I’m in the Uk and have a phal that blossomed every year for two years then the spike went brown and died back so I cut it down to the base of the plant. First question: will it ever spike again from that point? It looks really dead!
    I’ve got lots of aerial roots and lovely dark green strong leaves (new leaf growing right now!) so I’m sure my plant is healthy. I also re-potted this spring. Your visual aids were great for distinguishing between spike and root – I’ve got 2 aerial roots that were silvery green from tip to end but suddenly they’ve started getting dark opaque green on the tips for no apparent reason. Second question: what does this indicate? is there something I should do? am I watering enough etc? Thanks so much in advance for your help.

    • Hi Pebbles, the dark tips on the roots aren’t cause for concern; these are normal. Many orchids’ roots are a different color at the tip. With regard to your first question about the spike, as long as you keep your orchid healthy it can absolutely spike and bloom again! Dark green leaves (especially if they have a reddish tinge around the edge) can indicated that the plant is getting too much light, so you may want to move it to an area that gets a bit less light. Phal leaves should generally be a bright, grassy green.

      I hope that helps! Happy growing.

  17. Nancy says:

    I have never gotten an orchid to do ANYTHING after someone gave it to me, and I have two that seem to be going nuts in a living room full of indirect light. I rescued them from a grocery store arrangement, in which they lived for a year without much dirt. I am disappointed the spikes coming from them are only roots, but now I know what to look for as far as upcoming flowers. To be continued… THANK YOU!

  18. Debora says:

    Thank you for the pictures , but I’m still not sure what my orchids are doing other than producing more roots! What can be done to entice the orchid to produce a spike and not more roots?

    • Hi Debora, orchids usually produce spikes seasonally, so it may be hard to encourage spike growth out of season. If your orchid is a phalaenopsis, this type of orchid generally blooms in late winter or early spring. What helps these orchids develop a spike is a couple weeks of a drop in nighttime temperature — 10 to 15 degrees cooler than the daytime temp. If you have the ability to control the temperature, you could give this a shot and see if it works. Happy growing!

  19. Judy says:

    Hello. I have a beautiful large Phal with 2 large stems. The flowers just fell off after blooming since January. So I cut the 2 stems back to right above the node closest to where the flowers were. Was that right? Also lots and lots of roots with some even coming out through the bottom of the pot. I’ve had the pot sitting in a larger decorative pot with moss and stones around it. Should I repot now? Thanks.

  20. Cameron says:

    Very, very helpful information. Thank you very much!!

  21. Rita Chantree says:

    I have a Phal which produced a spike which not only flowered but also put out leaves half-way up. Eventually the original spike dried out leaving the leaves. I cut the spike either side of the leaves and aerial roots because I was afraid it would die too. I have it suspended over a cup of water barely touching the moisture and it looks healthy. How does it produce roots? If I plant it in medium will some of the aerial roots become regular roots, or will the roots come from the crown? Your help would be very much appreciated.

    • Hi Rita,

      It sounds like what you have now is a keiki—a baby orchid. If it has at least 2-3 healthy roots that are at least 2-4″ long, you can repot the little guy all on its own. By caring for it just as you would a full sized orchid (regular watering, fertilizing, etc) then it should eventually grow into a nice healthy, flowering orchid. Just be careful when you pot the little guy, as the roots can be fragile. If some of them don’t want to be bent to fit in the pot, it’s okay to leave them sticking out. Roots shouldn’t grow from the crown, just the base of where the leaves come from. Happy growing!

  22. Su says:

    Thank you for all these lovely photos. I think I’ve got roots and a new spike, must go have a look straightaway!

  23. Sarah Staudohar says:

    Hi ;
    I have a catalyea orchid which I bought at the Orchid Fasaniation show in Orange County and it was in full bloom that was a year ago and I am wondering how long does it take for it to respike and bloom. Thank you for your help

    • Hi Sarah,
      I actually don’t have any experience with Cattleyas yet, so I’m not sure about the blooming timing. I recommend posting on orchidboard.com — the folks over there are always really helpful and I’m sure someone there will know about Cattleyas.

      • Sarah Staudohar says:

        Thank you for your help. I also have a minature Phal which is showing a new root and I am not sure yet but just maybe a spike. I will be reading your blog from here on in your pictures were a big help.

  24. sally says:

    These photos are very useful as I think my damaged orchid (fell from my window) has put out a new leaf and what I believe to be a root! I think this is a good sign that my orchid is still alive and healthy :)

  25. Hannah says:

    Thank you so much, this was really helpful! My orchid is doing so well – so far it’s sprouting 10 new roots all in about a month period! I keep crossing my fingers for that spike to show up…..

  26. Tom says:

    I have a Phal & finally I have a healthy orchid doing very well. I have 2 roots growing on the bottom & it appears that previously roots were pruned back. Is that something I shud do?

  27. Nicole says:

    Your info and pictures have been super helpful as I didnt need to browse the internet for hours searching if I had roots coming in or what. I was given a Phal early this year in bloom and did tons of research on orchids to see how to care for them since it was totally new to me. For the first time this year after several months of misting almost everyday to every other day and soaking in water once a month for 10min, sometimes with fertilizer, I decided to use fish emulsion as the fertilizer during last months 10min soak. Happy to find the other day that it has at least 3 new roots coming out at once! Not sure if its due to the change in fertilizer or just the time of year. Would be interested to hear your thoughts : ) Cant wait for a new spike! Definitely gonna need a lot more orchids! Best flower ever!

    • Hi Nicole, thanks for the kind words! I’ve heard about using fish emulsion as a plant fertilizer but haven’t tried it myself…I can’t stand the smell of fish so I don’t know if I could deal with using that! :P That’s great news that you’ve got new roots coming in – always a good sign that the orchid is happy and healthy. Happy growing to you!

  28. Brenda says:

    I have a Phal and I have gotten 6 new roots, 3 leaves, and 2 new spikes in less then 2 months i’m worried that it’s going to die because it’s doing so much so fast. Should i be?

    • Sarah says:

      Hi Brenda – I wouldn’t worry if I were you. Orchids can go through phases of growth, so it sounds like yours went through a “growth spurt,” so to speak. It is getting into blooming season for Phalaenopsis, so this doesn’t sound unusual. Growth is good! Nice work. :)

      Happy growing!

  29. veronica says:

    hi,great info,and fantastic pictures!.was wondering i you could help me please.I have a large phal that has bloomed once before,it currently has one new spike growing.now the problem – the spike has decided to grow underneath a leaf,and because the leaf is so big i can’t get any light to the spike.it has finally started growing again after a month of being about an inch long.( i have had to carefully tie the leaf back a bit so the spike can get light).The end of the spike doesn’t look like anything i’ve ever seen.It doesn’t have the classic mitten shape to it,it is completely rounded. i think i’m going to end up with a plant, not flowers.this is fine but dissapointing.Do you have any ideas whats happening with this spike?.it doesn’t look ‘normal’.plus there is now something tiny coming through the bottom of the round end of the spike.any help would be appreciated.thankyou.

    • veronica says:

      thks for the reply,won’t b coming here again.

    • Sarah says:

      Hi Veronica, sorry for the delay in responding — I somehow completely missed your comment. Do you have any photos of the spike that you can link to? Or email them to me at brooklynorchids [at] gmail [dot] come. It’s hard to tell what’s happening to the spike without seeing it.
      Thanks!

  30. Linda McGowan says:

    I have three phal. Two came in moss and I transplanted them to bark after they finished blooming. Both had many rotten roots. The first of the two is wilting. It’s leaves are still dark green but with the wilt–so I assumed not enough water, so I am watering once every one to two weeks–I soak for about an hour and drain. The second one has developed a couple brown spots that are symmetrical circles but no wilt but still full, green leaves. I just transplanted it into bark as its spike has finally died. Both are still sending off roots but the first one not as much anymore. It is cool in my house getting down to 59-60 at night but they are by a north window with a pebble tray and over my kitchen sink. Day time temp is warm to 80. I heat with a wood stove with a pot of water on the mantel, and I have a humidifier turned on at night. My house is always at a good humidity. The 3rd one came from my mother and it never spiked for her. It looks great and seems very healthy with new roots but no spikes. What is happening to the first two and how can I get them to spike?

  31. Scarlet says:

    Hello, I have had an orchid in bloom since last August. One bloom fell off back in November but no others have since. It has also been growing a new leaf and a new root, which I thought was a spike until I read your articles. Is it true that an orchid will not grow new spikes while it is still in bloom and what is the normal length of time a Phal stays in bloom?

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