If you’ve asked the question above, you are not alone! Let’s first geek out a little about words and define “aerial roots.” The prefix “aer-” is derived from the Latin word aer, which means air. So the word aerial itself is the key to unlocking the meaning. In orchids (as well as many other plants), aerial roots are roots that grow from the base of the plant upward, or out into the air, rather than down into the soil or inside the pot.
What is the purpose of aerial roots? Well, a great many types of orchids, including the most popular household orchids—Phalaenopsis—are epiphytes, as are Dendrobium, Oncidium, Vanda, Cattleya, and many many more. This term is used to describe plants that grow attached to other plants, trees, branches, stumps; in other words, epiphytes do not grow in soil. Rather, an epiphyte’s roots are exposed to the air (hence the term “aerial roots”) and cling to the surface of tree trunks and other organic matter while soaking up water and nutrients from the plant’s environment. These roots form the building blocks of the orchid and are absolutely vital to its ability to thrive.
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I’ve contributed to these lessons as a co-author, so I can personally vouch for this program. Here’s a recap of what you get when you sign up:
Every week, you’ll receive a new and exciting orchid lesson delivered via email. You’ll access the lesson by following a special private link to a password-protected website. Each lesson covers a fun orchid care topic in step-by-step detail, complete with photos, videos, diagrams and more.
Making your own fertilizer
Drying and pressing your flowers
Growing orchids under lights
How to grow on mounts, stumps, & trees
Pairing your orchids with their natural “buddies” like African violets, cacti, and carnivorous plants
Diagnosing and treating practically every possible pest and disease
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Say you have a lovely Phalaenopsis orchid and one day you notice that there’s something growing off of its spike, something that doesn’t look like a flower bud. Maybe it looks like a new leaf or two (like in the photo to the right)…and after awhile what looks like a root starts to appear. What is this growth? Is it normal, and what should you do with it?
I get a lot of questions like these from readers, so it’s well past time to dedicate a blog post to the topic. The growth I described above is a baby orchid or plantlet, known to orchid lovers as a “keiki” (the Hawaiian term for “the little one”). Keikis are clones of the “mother” plant and can either be left attached to the mother or removed and potted individually once they have grown large enough. Keikis can grow off of the spike or stem of the mother, or they can begun to sprout from the plant base, in which case they are referred to as basal keikis (I currently have two of these developing on one Phal).
Like all living things, orchids need nutrition. Feeding (fertilizing) your orchid is an important part of caring for it and making sure that it lives a long and healthy life. This post about how to fertilize an orchid is waaaaayyy overdue…but better late than never, right? I’m going to talk specifically about fertilizing Phalaenopsis (moth) orchids because Phals are the most common orchids for beginners, available everywhere from corner delis to Home Depot, Ikea, and Trader Joe’s.
So you have a beautiful Phalaenopsis orchid, but its blooms are starting to wilt and fall off. What do you do now?! First of all, don’t freak out and throw your plant in the garbage; fading flowers are totally normal and they do NOT mean that your orchid is dying! Orchids can live for years and years and years with the proper care. Part of this proper care is knowing when and where to cut the flower spike. This is one of the most common questions I get in the comments section of my blog posts, so I thought it would be helpful to write about how to proceed once your Phal (the most widely available type of orchid) has finished blooming.
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: