Brooklyn Orchids

How to Recognize Orchid Roots and Orchid Spikes, Part Deux: Photos!

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

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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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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!

My Updated Orchid Setup

Last week I made a few changes to the orchid setup in my apartment. I did some reading up on Phalaenopsis orchids and determined that mine might be getting too much light in my very bright southern-facing windows. A couple of them have a red tinge around the edge of the leaves, which is a sign of too much light. And as I recently posted, a couple of my Phals are in pretty bad shape.

I decided to do a little rearranging and see whether the altered light source helps at all. According to some orchid experts, eastern exposure is acceptable for Phals. I don’t have a straight up eastern-facing window, but the northern-facing window at the front of my apartment is actually a bay window that gets some pretty good light from the east in the morning. So I moved four of my Phals to my desk in the front room:

Eastern exposure phals

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More Sad Orchids in Need of Help

I have a couple more Phals that are not looking very happy, so in another rescue attempt I repotted them this morning.

But before I tell you about those two orchids, I want to show you a photo of the tiny root nubbin that I discovered on my recovering Phal that I wrote about yesterday. I would have posted the photo yesterday, but to be honest I didn’t want to do an import of just one photo to my computer. Anyway, have a look:

Orchid root growth

I’m not sure what that brown speckling is on the base of the crown but it’s been there for quite awhile and hasn’t spread, so I’m guessing it’s not a problem. But, let’s forget about that and talk about the more important element. Look at the new root growth! I’m excited because this poor orchid has been looking really sad for some time, probably at least three or four months now.

So. Being that this orchid is finally starting to turn around after I repotted it in spaghnum moss (not packed too tightly), I decided it was time to switch out the potting medium for my other two sad orchids.

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