Brooklyn Orchids

“What’s a spike?” A glossary of orchid terms

At the NYBG 2010 Orchid Show

Learning about orchids can feel like learning a foreign language. When I first started surfing the internet for information about orchids and how to care for them, I felt a little dazed and confused; orchid lovers on forums were throwing around all sorts of terms that meant absolutely nothing to me. Over time these terms became a part of my vocabulary, and I want to share with you a glossary of the terms that I encounter most frequently when reading about orchids. So below is a list of terms that I wish I’d known when I got started with the hobby. Of course there are a million more terms out there to learn—the world of orchids is virtually endless—but this list should help you on your way to understanding these wonderful plants.

In alphabetical order:

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Basic Orchid Supplies for the Home Grower

Photo credit: otolithe (olivier roux), Flickr

Updated October 23, 2019

When I first started buying orchids for my home, I wished I had a list of basic supplies to have on hand. So to help out other beginner orchid growers, I’ve created that very list. Also, I just like making lists, so this post is a fun one for me!

Potting Medium

Orchid newbies usually end up with Phalaenopsis orchids; the best type of potting medium for that kind of orchid is either a bark mixture, sphagnum moss, or a combination of the two. First Rays has a really good article about choosing potting media for your orchid plants.

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Top Three Orchid Newbie FAQs

I’ve been following tweets about orchids and it seems that there are a few very common questions from first time orchid owners. So I’d like to take a moment to address the top three FAQs for all orchid newbies out there.

1. My flowers are shriveling and falling off. Is my orchid dying?

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A Basic Guide to Buying Orchids

Phalaenopsis orchid bloom and buds

Selecting an orchid to buy can be quite a decision. For those who simply want the instant gratification of something lovely to display in their home, the “Oooh, pretty, I’ll take it!” method works just fine. But if you’re buying an orchid with the long term in mind, there are a few things you’ll want to look for before you head to the checkout counter. Bear in mind that these tips are mainly for Phalaenopsis orchids, but the general principles will work for many other orchid varieties as well.

As always, I’ve included photo examples for your viewing pleasure.

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How to Identify a New Orchid Root vs. Flower Spike

Something is poking out of the base of your orchid plant. Is it a new root, or—even more exciting—a flower spike? It can be hard to tell the difference, especially for orchid beginners. In a Phalaenopsis orchid, both roots and spikes are usually green when they begin to emerge, which makes it that much harder to distinguish the two.

I’ve found that with orchids, the easiest way to learn is with our eyes. So, I write bearing visual aids.

The long silvery thing in this first photo is a healthy, dry root. And the small green nub you see to the right of the long silvery root is a new root beginning to poke out from the plant stem. New Phalaenopsis roots usually appear with a green tip, and as they grow longer they will become silvery near the base of the plant. If you click the photo to view the larger version, you will see there are actually two new roots coming in – the green one on the right that I already mentioned, and a second one just above the longer silver root.

New orchid root
New phalaenopsis orchid root

This next photo shows a brand new flower spike growing out of the base of another one of my Phalaenopsis orchids. It’s a slightly brighter green and a tad flattened, with what looks almost like a tiny mitten at the tip. It’s this mitten shape that, for me, is what most easily distinguishes a root from a spike.

New orchid spike
New phalaenopsis orchid spike

In the third photo you can see both a new root (silver, on the left) and a new spike (green mitten, on the right).

New phalaenopsis orchid root and spike
New phalaenopsis orchid root and spike

Cool, huh? I’m always excited to see ANY new growth on my orchids – whether it be a new root, spike, or leaf – because new growth is a sign of a happy and healthy plant. Of course I’m keeping my fingers crossed for more spikes, because that means MORE FLOWERS! but I’ll take new roots too. Growing orchids at home sure is a good way to strengthen your patience muscle.

Updated to add: I receive many questions from readers about orchids that have leaves and roots growing off of the spike. These are called keikis (baby orchids), and they can be viable plants on their own once their roots grow long enough. I have written a separate post about keikis and what to do with them. Read all about keikis here. 

P.S. For another great source of information about how to successfully grow orchids, I recommend signing up for a [Affiliate Link] free Orchids Made Easy newsletter from Ryan “The Orchid Guy.” He brings tons of tips and advice straight to your inbox, every day!

Beginner Tips on How to Grow Phalaenopsis Orchids

Photo credit: melop, Flickr

So you just brought home your first orchid – or possibly even more intimidating, you were given an orchid as a gift. Now what??

Many people throw out their orchid once the blooms fall off because they think it’s dying. Not so! What you should remember is that an orchid is a plant that, if cared for properly, can bloom again and again, year after year. How do you keep your Phalaenopsis orchid (aka moth orchid) happy and healthy so that it will bloom again in the future? Here are a few key tips that will help you maintain your orchid’s health: Read more

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