By Pam Brown, Retired Extension Agent
Nun’s orchids (Phaius tankervillae) are terrestrial orchids, meaning they will grow directly in the ground or soil. The hooded flowers are held single file on three to four foot stems. The showy flowers can measure up to five inches across and many are fragrant. The thin pleated leaves can grow up to about three feet in height. The flowers develop during late winter and early spring and they open from the bottom of the stalk to the top over a period of about six weeks and then last about a month.
These orchids prefer a very organic soil with an acidic pH and partial shade. By working peat, compost and partially decomposed pine bark in a concentration of about 60 – 70 percent into the soil, you can improve the pH. You may also need to add sand or perlite to the planting area to improve drainage. They like an even level of moisture during the time of new growth and blooming. After the new foliage matures you can begin to let the top two inches of soil dry out between watering. I find it easier to grow mine in container where I can control the soil mixture better. And, for areas that routinely get temperatures below 35 – 40 degrees F, a container that you can move inside or to a very protected is needed. They are severely damaged at temperatures below 32 degrees F.
It is easy to propagate Nun’s orchids. You can simply divide the pseudobulbs by removing the plant and cutting the pseudobulbs apart with a knife keeping roots with each section. Or you can root the expended flower stalk. Carefully cut the flower stalk from the plant. Prepare a long tray with damp sand, and then lay the flower stalk in the tray. Keep the sand and the environment moist with low light, and in two to three months you may see new shoots growing from the nodes on the flower stalk. Alternately, cut the stalk into sections just below a node where a flower was attached. Dust the cut end with rooting hormone and plant in damp sand. Again, it will take two to three months to see new sprouts.
For more information on Nun's orchids, visit the University of Florida/IFAS Extension Solutions for Your Life web site at: http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/hot_topics/lawn_and_garden/nuns_orchid.html