But Wait, My Root Are Green?!?

Written By Steve Catando, DVFlora, WF&FSA Marketing Committee Member

Feb ArticleDuring my almost thirty years of working in the flower and plant distribution business it has become apparent to me that the most misunderstood product that we trade is the family of orchid plants.

Phalaenopsis is an orchid plant that has soared in popularity over the past twenty years.  

The Phalaenopsis shares many of the same characteristics as the hundreds, if not thousands, of other varieties of orchid plants.  The most common orchids that are commercially grown today and used in both fresh cut and potted plant applications are Phalaenopsis, dendrobium, mokara, oncidium, and vandas. Cymbidiums are on the list too, but we will discuss that variety at another time. These plants are native to southeast Asia, Japan, India, and China and naturally grow on trees (Note: They do not actually penetrate the bark of the tree).

So, why is there so much confusion surrounding these beautiful blooms? Here are some common questions that we field:

Should I repot my orchid in soil to get it to bloom again? Should I keep it in direct sunlight? Why won’t my orchid plant bloom again? Should I fertilize my orchid plant?  Why are orchid plants so hard to care for?  I know that orchids are tropical, and I keep them in direct light, why is it doing so poorly?

To answer these questions; all that we must do is look to the origin and understand how they grow naturally.  

They grow in trees (not in soil). That’s why you do NOT need to repot them in soil. In fact, the medium in the pots is commonly either pink bark, cork, or sphagnum moss. The medium is merely holding the plant in place (in nature, that’s the tree).  

Often mistaken for new flower shoots or baby blooms are the roots of the plant. The roots of these plants are GREEN! This is one of only types of plants that absorbs light through the roots.  That’s because they grow in trees and the roots need to grow, twist, and make turns around branches to seek water for the plant.  So, any humans that have white roots, that’s normal (at a certain age). But if your roots are green; you may just be an orchid plant.   

That must explain why you often see that the grower pots are in clear and translucent; they want the sunlight to get to the roots!   And for the last common confusion, these plants like filtered light (not direct sunlight).  Remember, they live in trees, so they enjoy a nice, filtered light. Orchids like warm weather and high humidity; let’s say 75f daytime and 65% humidity for ideal conditions. These plants do not like cold and one freezing cold burst can cause rapid flower bud abortion.


Phalaenopsis plants like to drink water and drain out; they do not want to sit in standing water as it will rot out the roots and ultimately kill the plant. Back to nature and living in a tree, it’s common to receive water and then not have any for days.  So, for home care, water once per week and let it drain out.  Put the pot in your sink and flush it with water; then let it sit until it has drained out.  And if you’re adding fertilizer; use it at a 25% strength and once per month is adequate.

Once you understand the basic needs of this plant; they become remarkably easy to care for and can provide unlimited years of viability. When you receive the blooming plant, the flowers can last anywhere from 1 to 4 months. Once the flower spike is done you can cut that bloom spike down at the base of the plant.  Then, the plant will go into its vegetative state and begins making new leaves and getting bigger and stronger.  If the plant is happy; it will then shoot a new flower spike and can provide new flowers once per year with an unlimited shelf life.

Wishing everyone a Happy Valentine’s Day and much luck with your orchid plants!

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