Native to tropical parts of Southeast Asia, New Guinea, Northern Australia and the Philippines, phalaenopsis orchids are among the most popular of orchids grown as houseplants.
Phalaenopsis orchids, or moth orchids, are perfect for those just starting out in growing orchids, and it helps that they look stunning with very little care. They can keep their flowers for months, in a huge range of colors.
Here’s everything you need to know about phalaenopsis orchids, including how to recognize them from other orchids, how to care for them, and types you can grow yourself.
At a Glance: What You Should Know About Phalaenopsis Orchids
There are roughly 70 different species in the phalaenopsis orchid genus, making it one of the smaller orchid genera. In some places, you’ll see the name shortened to Phal.
It’s also only been discovered fairly recently compared to other orchid types, its first description dated to 1825, by Carl Ludwig Blume in Bijdragen tot de flora van Nederlandsch Indië.
The genus name translates from Greek to ‘moth-like’.
The phalaenopsis orchid can flower at any time of the year. They are prolific bloomers, nearly flowering all year round, but this does shorten the lifespan of the orchid considerably.
In the past, they were extremely expensive, but because the orchids in the genus are easy to hybridize, and we’ve since developed new techniques to propagate them (see also 5 Ways To Propagate Orchids), they have become much cheaper and widely available.
In fact, it’s likely that the orchids you see in grocery stores, florists, and garden centers are moth orchids, but they’re not always labeled as such. So how do you tell?
How to Recognize a Moth Orchid
Moth orchids either grow on rocks, or other plants. Most are classed as epiphytes, which is the latter.
The leaves are long and thick, usually in a deep green, and they are monopodial, which means that the growth emerges from a single point of the plant.
How tall a moth orchid gets depends on both the species and the variety. Some can be as small as 20cm tall, while others can get to an impressive height of 91cm.
The moth orchid produces tall flower stems that arch downward with the weight of the orchid flowers. How many orchid flowers the plant produces depends on the species and the variety, as well as the conditions the orchid is grown in (see also Dying Orchid Flowers: Everything You Need To Know).
The common name of moth orchid refers to the shape of the flowers, which look like a flying moth.
The flowers themselves come in a kaleidoscope of color, but they are often white, pink, or purple more than any other color, sometimes blotched or veined with a second or third color.
How to Grow Moth Orchids
Moth orchids make fantastic houseplants, as they like the warmth of our centrally-heated homes, and filtered sunlight through the windows.
While they are easy to grow, there are some things that you still need to get right with moth orchids, in order to keep them healthy. Here’s what you need to know.
Sunlight and Position
Like most orchids, moth or phalaenopsis orchids need a bright position, away from any direct sunlight. A sunny position is much too strong for these delicate plants, and they will be much happier in a shadier spot.
In winter, you can get away with much brighter light. This will also encourage the plant to flower.
They also require somewhere warm, away from radiators and drafts. The temperature needs to be consistent above all else, at least 66°F (19°C) during the day, and 61°F (16°C) during the night.
The maximum temperature you can get away with is 86°F (or 30°C). Any hotter than this, and the moth orchid will suffer.
It’s worth noting that moth orchids require a drop in temperature at night in order to bloom well, as this stimulates flower production.
The warmer the home, the more humidity a moth orchid needs. It’s important to keep a good airflow around the plant, as this will stop any rot or fungal disease from taking hold of the orchid.
Moth orchids require less humidity than most, at about 40-50%. This should be very achievable, but again, this depends on your home environment.
When to Water a Moth Orchid
One thing you do need to be careful of is when you water your phalaenopsis orchid. Keep a moth orchid too wet and the roots will rot. Not watering a moth orchid enough means that the roots will also die, but they will shrivel instead.
To stop over or under watering your orchids, only use a small amount of water. During the growing season, you should water a moth orchid once a week, reducing this in winter.
The key to watering a moth orchid is to do so carefully, avoiding the leaves and crown.
Don’t be tempted to sit your orchid in water, as this can cause root rot. Let the inner pot drain before you put it back into its decorative pot.
Should You Feed a Moth Orchid?
Yes. Similarly to the moth orchid’s watering needs, you need to lightly fertilize the plant. Use a specially-formulated orchid fertilizer for the job, during the growing season, to make sure the plant growth stays healthy and balanced.
You can overdo it, though, just like with any plant. To prevent overfeeding a phalaenopsis orchid, water without fertilizing the plant every third watering or so.
Don’t feed the plant during winter.
How to Get a Moth Orchid to Bloom
Phalaenopsis or moth orchids tend to bloom pretty regularly on their own, but there are occasions where it can stop flowering.
If the plant is healthy, but you haven’t seen flowers in ages, you can make it produce a new flower spike. Simply take the orchid and pop it somewhere colder, about 8°F (or 5°C) cooler.
Leave it in its new position for about 4 weeks, by which time you should see a new flower stem emerging from the plant.
Repotting a Moth Orchid
As a rule, moth orchids require repotting every two years (see also How To Repot Moth Orchids). You can do this at any point during the year, but make sure that the roots have green tips, which means they aren’t dormant.
Leaving it longer than two years risks that the orchid is more vulnerable to root rot, as orchid bark compost will break down during this time.
This means that there will be less air getting to the roots of your phalaenopsis orchid, and the bark will hold onto water instead of letting it drain.
You should also repot your orchid once it has started to get too big for its original pot, in order to keep it healthy.
When you repot your orchid, discard the old soil, replacing it with specially formulated orchid bark compost. As for the pot, make sure it is see-through, which will help you judge when to water.
Get rid of any mushy, hollow or brown roots using sharp scissors. Put a small amount of compost in the bottom of the pot, checking to see if the roots fit nicely.
Once they do, gently tuck the plant into the soil, leaving any roots which are growing towards the air.
One way of checking if you’ve put enough compost on is to gingerly pick up the orchid by its stem. If you’ve done it right, the compost and the container will move with the plant.
When you’ve repotted your moth orchid, be sure to give it a drink, but wait until the pot has drained before putting it back into its decorative pot.
How to Prune a Moth Orchid
Once the flowers have finished, it’s important to cut back a phalaenopsis orchid to keep it looking neat, and to divert the plant’s energy into its growth, rather than wilting existing dying flowers.
Only cut the stalk back to a few centimeters above the second joint beneath the dead flowers. This can encourage a new shoot, which will produce fresh flowers. Often, the whole stem might die back, and this is normal.
Cut the dead stem to the base. Unlike other orchid types (see also Vanda Orchids Guide) where you might leave the old growth on, the old growth on a phalaenopsis orchid has no benefit.
When leaves start to die off, cut them from the plant with sharp scissors. This will keep your orchid tidy, but it will also prevent any disease.
Types of Phalaenopsis Orchids to Choose From
Phalaenopsis amabilis ‘White Moon Orchid’
Grown throughout the world, the ‘White Moon Orchid’, or Phalaenopsis amabilis comes from Indonesia, parts of Australia, and the Philippines.
It’s an epiphyte, so you will need to grow it in orchid bark compost. The stem can grow anywhere from 10cm to 30cm tall.
The foliage is egg-shaped and thick, usually deep green or silvery, which is capable of reaching 30cm long.
During the summer, the white moon orchid can produce anywhere between 2 and 10 flowers per flower spike, each reaching at a maximum 5cm in diameter.
These gorgeous flowers are a bright white, with yellow flower lips.
Phalaenopsis aphrodite ‘Aphrodite’s Phalaenopsis’
An epiphytic orchid, Phalaenopsis aphrodite comes from Taiwan and parts of the Philippines.
This stunning orchid is often confused with Phalaenopsis amabilis, but this particular orchid flowers from December into mid-spring.
It produces brilliant-white flowers, the lips of which are tinged with yellow, but may have yellow or red spots.
The shape of the orchid lip is also different, the white moon orchid featuring two ‘horns’, while this orchid has four.
Phalaenopsis fascinata ‘Striped Flower Phalaenopsis’
Found in the wild in the Philippines, Phalaenopsis fascinata, or the striped flower phalaenopsis is a beautiful orchid which is valued for its unusual flowers.
Depending on the conditions it is grown in, this orchid can reach between 15 and 20cm tall, featuring deep green leaves, which can reach about 20cm in length.
The flowering stem of a striped flower phalaenopsis orchid can zigzag, reaching 25cm in length, producing showy flowers which reach 5cm wide.
The flowers themselves are thick and perfumed, the petals are greenish-yellow with maroon speckles. The lip of the flower is usually white with a splash of bright yellow.
Phalaenopsis schilleriana ‘Schiller’s Pink Moth Orchid’
‘Schiller’s Pink Moth Orchid’, or Phalaenopsis schilleriana, is only found in the wild in the Philippines.
It is notorious for producing keikis, or offsets, which you can treat as a separate plant once it has grown a decent root system. The foliage is an unusual deep green, speckled with silvery gray, but purple on the undersides.
It can reach anywhere between 60 and 90cm tall, depending on the size of the pot and the growing conditions. Flowers may be pink or white, appearing on flower stems which can arch or trail.
It’s also among the most popular phalaenopsis orchids to grow as an ornamental, as it’s an undemanding plant which can adapt somewhat to different conditions.
Moth Orchid Cultivars You Should Grow At Least Once
Phalaenopsis ‘Dragon’s Gold’
‘Dragon’s Gold’ is a beautiful orchid, producing unusual greenish yellow blooms which contrast well against the rich green leaves.
The plant itself is more compact than some in the phalaenopsis genus, staying small.
Phalaenopsis ‘Golden Peoker’
A beautiful hybrid phalaenopsis orchid, ‘Golden Peoker’ features white petals which are heavily splotched with dark pink to purple spots, the heart of the flower being a lovely yellow contrast.
Phalaenopsis ‘Sedona’s Maki Dream’
Hybridized in 2004, ‘Sedona’s Maki Dream’ is the resulting hybrid of Maki Watanabe and Sylvia’s Dream. It produces huge lightly pink flowers with darker, streaked centers, usually highlighted in yellow.
Phalaenopsis ‘Sogo David’
For a unique display, you can’t go wrong with ‘Sogo David’. It produces sunshine-yellow blooms, with tiny specks of dark pink.