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Why the full name of your orchid matters, and other tips to cultivate orchids at home

Dendrobium Caesar

As the vice president of the Orchid Society of South East Asia (OSSEA) and editor of its publication Malayan Orchid Review, John Elliott assures hobbyists that orchid growing is easy as long as you know the species and follow these tips.

John Elliott

Why should hobbyists care about the specific type of orchid they’re growing? 

There are some 25,000 species worldwide, and about 175,000 hybrids registered around the world since 1856, so knowing and naming exactly what you are growing is essential to success in growing it.

All orchids have two parts to their name, the genus name (such as Dendrobium) and the specific name (such as Caesar). Garden centres often sell orchids with the genus name and omit the specific name.

Serious growers won’t buy plants without the full name. Moreover, in the case of hybrids, the name allows you to trace the original species with the online International Orchid Register.

Is our national flower Vanda Ms Joaquim hard to cultivate?

It is easy but it needs full sun – or at least as much as you can give it – and enough space in a pot or bed for the roots to spread, plus a post up which to climb. Plants will usually only flower when they are a metre or more tall. Regular watering and feeding are important, as these plants grow more or less continuously without a resting period.

Can orchids be grown with artificial lighting? 

Yes, natural-spectrum fluorescent lighting is best, but needs to be quite close to the leaves – say within 30cm or closer. Artificial lighting is more suitable for small varieties. It is quite challenging to grow orchids well and flower them under artificial lights.

Aranda

A common complaint about orchids is that they only bloom once. How can we encourage a pot of orchids to bloom more frequently?

It takes time for a purchased orchid to adapt to its new home. It will in any case usually need a rest after blooming before commencing more growth. Usually, it will only flower again after completing this new growth. So, the trick is to get the orchid growing well in its new home, which comes back to all the issues of how to choose and manage your orchid. It can be difficult, or impossible, to achieve this if the orchid purchased was imported from a country with a cool climate as is not at home in tropical lowlands. It is important therefore to choose orchids compatible with the climate here as well as with your home conditions.  

Where is your favourite place to go orchid shopping in Singapore?

There are four that offer a good range: Woon Leng Nursery, Toh Garden, Song Orchids and  Neo Cheng Soon Farm.

How many OSSEA members are there in Singapore?

I don’t have an exact figure but there are something like 400 local members, which is up by around 80 from the past 5 years.

How long have you been a member and vice president of the OSSEA?

I was a member for a time in the early ’70s and rejoined in 1986. I stepped down as president in 2011, and have been vice president since 2015.

Visit www.ossea.org.sg to find out more about local orchid-related events and subscribe to the Malayan Orchid Review by OSSEA.

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