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Paphiopedilums hard to say, but great to see

Sun., March 27, 2011

The blossoms of Paphiopedilums, or lady’s slipper orchids, are real eye-catchers. (Susan Mulvihill)
The blossoms of Paphiopedilums, or lady’s slipper orchids, are real eye-catchers. (Susan Mulvihill)

Of all the plants on our planet, orchids are among the most stunning. And of all the orchids, some of the coolest-looking ones have to be the Paphiopedilums.

Pronounced “paff-ee-oh-PED-ih-lums,” they are better known as lady’s slipper orchids.

“We call them ‘Paphs’ because the whole word is a mouthful,” says Spokane Orchid Society President Jim Pearce.

Despite their exotic appearance, Paphs are considered quite easy to grow.

“You don’t need to grow them in a greenhouse,” explains Kathy O’Neill, the Orchid Society’s vice president. “You can grow them in your house because they don’t need a big drop in temperature at night in order to bloom.”

Pearce, who grows many kinds of orchids, discovered this very thing.

“I had mine growing in a greenhouse under ideal conditions and yet they wouldn’t bloom,” he says. “I moved them indoors and the blooms started coming.”

Area residents will have the opportunity to see all sorts of Paphs and other orchids at next weekend’s Orchid Show and Sale, which is sponsored by the Spokane Orchid Society (see information box for details).

Visitors can purchase orchids and orchid art, attend demonstrations and talk with experts on how to grow and maintain orchids.

Paphs originated in Asia, China, Indonesia and Vietnam. What growers like about these plants is that they are reliable bloomers, with the flowers lasting a long time.

“They are sequential bloomers,” says O’Neill. “Some flowers are smaller, some are really big. Some petals grow like tendrils, some are straight while others twist.”

When it comes to care, these plants aren’t as picky as one might imagine. They don’t require special lighting, so they can be grown in an east-facing window. They have few insect or disease problems.

O’Neill suggests beginners choose hybrid Paphs over species Paphs because they are easier to grow.

One thing they do need a lot of is water. O’Neill tells how her mentor, Gordon Emry, has been known to say that “If a Paph is dry, you should have watered it yesterday.”

That said, the quickest way to kill most orchids is by leaving the roots in standing water. Since the plants like 40 to 50 percent humidity, growers place the pots on pebble-filled trays and add water to the trays regularly.

Because Paphs are watered more, their potting material will break down more quickly. This means they need to be repotted more often than other types of orchids, every six to 12 months.

Growers use a half-strength, high-nitrogen (30-10-10) fertilizer every other week during the growing season and switch to a higher-phosphorus fertilizer prior to the blooming season.

It’s important to flush the pot with clear water monthly to leach out excess fertilizer, which can burn roots. In cool weather, fertilizer applications once a month are sufficient.

If you want to know more about growing Paphs and other types of orchids, next weekend’s show is a good starting point. Demonstration topics include repotting orchids, getting them to re-bloom and how to grow orchids under lights.

In addition to being available at the orchid show, Paphs can be found locally at Small Hill Orchids and the Plant Wizard. The Spokane Orchid Society has other sources and references listed on its website (www.spokaneorchid

Susan Mulvihill can be reached via email at Visit her blog at for more garden tips and information.

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