Growing Leafless Orchids By Brad Lau It seems so strange that there could be orchids that grow without leaves. Not only is it possible, but they can grow well with the right approach. How do these plants photosynthesize and grow? They use their roots to perform the job of leaves which is revealed by a slight slivery green color similar to many Vanda roots. This plant strategy has benefits, this orchid can tolerate fairly bright indirect light, is compact and conserves energy but still has flower spikes with showy unique white flowers several times a year. They will produce keiki off of the spikes and grow into a large, tangled specimen plant over time. The most famous of these often fragrant orchids is the “Ghost orchid” or rare Dendrophylax lindenii found in humid marshy areas of Cuba, the Bahamas and Florida. They are also known as white frog orchids from their flower shape. They are difficult to find, and their natural locations are often guarded secrets. Poachers try to snag them, but they are also threatened by loss of their moth pollinator, pesticides and environment change. While home growers have difficulty growing the Ghost orchid outside of its natural conditions, I have grown a similar orchid, Dendrophylax funalis which I bought from H&R Nurseries some years ago. The plant itself is very similar to other leafless orchids and has delicate green, white flowers. Dendrophylax funalis are native to Jamaica and grow well hanging from bare wire or mounted on cork slabs. They are not fussy and will grow attached to anything as long as they have plenty of air circulation and daily moisture. Since they are mostly roots, they can’t hold much moisture, so I water daily. They grow year-round but have flower spikes when conditions are right in early spring through summer. The spike has a thin green appearance and can grow quite long with multiple flowers. New roots are a good sign of plant health while old roots dry and shrivel up. If a keiki grows it can be removed once roots are 2” or longer. Weak fertilizer during their growing months along with a regular source of rain or RO water help growth. Salt buildup from tap water or heavy fertilizing may be harsh for the roots. I sometimes will dunk or soak the whole plant in a bucket of rainwater every few days. If you get a chance, be sure to give one of these unique orchids a try but keep an eye out of their flowers which can be a very pleasant surprise.
Join us at our General Meeting on February 1. 2022 at 7PM via Zoom.