Widely popular for their diversity of shapes, colors, fragrances, and growing environments, people grow and adore orchids worldwide. Check out white orchids if you want to add a touch of simple elegance to your collection. Since you can find different species, varieties, and cultivars of white orchids growing across the globe, you’re sure to find a plant that fits your space and growing environment.
In this guide, we’ll briefly cover the botanical classification of orchids, talk about how white orchids’ pollination strategies are distinct from their colorful relatives, and dive into discussing three of our favorite white orchid species. We’ll also discuss each species’ growing difficulty and include detailed plant care. The three orchids we’ll be discussing in this article are:
- White Egret Orchid (Habanaria radiata)
- Thunderstorm Orchid (Dendrobium crumenatum)
- Tovar Masdevallia Orchid (Masdevallia tovarensis)
Ok, let’s jump in!
Orchids: Botanical Classification
The second largest family of flowering plants, orchids belong to the Orchidaceae family, are highly diverse, and grow on every continent except Antarctica. Since they came on the scene 112 million years ago, these brilliant plants have evolved several methods of growing, blooming, and attracting pollinators.
They feature magnificent displays of color, produce a wide range of scents, and are masters of mimicry. You can find them clinging to rocky outcrops, attached to rainforest trees, or growing terrestrially in wetlands.
3 Types of White Orchids: Lovely and Fragrant
While many orchids rely on colorful blooms, particularly of the labellum, white orchids must find another method to attract pollinators. These lovely flowers use fragrance to entice pollinators, including us! Of course, humans aren’t the intended audience of these scents, as intoxicating as we may find them. Many white orchids release their fragrances at night to attract their pollinators of choice: night-flying moths.
Stunning with unique scents, white orchids are an excellent addition to any collection. Read on to learn about three of our favorite species.
1. White Egret Orchid (Habanaria radiate)
Perhaps the most famous of native Japanese orchids, the white egret orchid provides adds elegance, a unique flower fragrance, and a show-stopping bird-like bloom to your collection. These terrestrial orchids are also found growing natively in parts of Korea, Russia, and China. These moisture-loving orchids prefer wet habitats like bogs, seepage slopes, and grassy wetlands. Belonging to the large Habanaria genus, Habanaria radiata (synonym Pecteilis radiata) is one of 880 accepted species.
As its common name suggests, the immensely graceful flower of this orchid resembles a white egret in flight. This illusion is due to the large, flat labellum, or lip petal, which features two highly fringed sections resembling feathers with an elongated center that looks like the main body of the egret. The remaining two white petals are much smaller, with a wide base that tapers towards the top. The sepals are greenish-white, narrow, and elongated.
Thin, light green, lanceolate leaves are mostly arranged basally, with a few sparse leaves emerging from the green, upright flower-producing stems. The gorgeous, 1.5-inch wide flowers sit gracefully atop the flower stems. The 12-18 inch tall stems typically branch at the very top to produce two to eight flowers per stem. This orchid normally blooms for 4 weeks in late summer.
Typical of white orchids, the white egret orchid produces a strong fragrance to compensate for its lack of pollinating-attracting colors. This orchid is known for producing a strong, enticing, musky scent.
Thankfully, caring for this plant is highly achievable as the plant multiplies quickly and abundantly. So if you’re an orchid grower and want to try your hand at growing these beauties, become informed on their care and jump in; you’ll likely succeed.
Quite the water-lovers, this orchid is one of the few that don’t require their roots to dry between watering. Now, they’re still orchids, which means they don’t like soggy roots or saturated soil, so you still need to ensure your soil is well-draining and aerated. Depending on your climate, you may even need to water this orchid daily to achieve a consistently moist growing medium. Watering 3-4 times per week will likely suffice if you live in a high-humidity environment. It thrives on far less water during dormancy, so cut back to ensuring the growing substrate doesn’t entirely dry out. Light misting can do the trick for the late fall and through winter.
A note on conservation: This species is considered imperiled in the wild due in a small part to over-collection and a much greater part to habitat loss via mass agriculture and land development. Ensure you obtain your plants from an ethical wildflower nursery, and avoid picking any wild specimens.
Like many of its orchid relatives, the white egret orchid thrives in bright, indirect sunlight but can also tolerate some full sun quite well. However, more than 3-4 hours of full sun exposure in the morning will typically result in leaf burn. While many of its natural habitats are bogs exposed to full sun, a plant growing isolated in a window doesn’t have the same sun protection as it would in a dense wetland.
Temperature and Humidity
Living in mostly temperature regions, this species is cool to warm-loving orchid and, during its growing phase, prefers exposure to daylight temperatures of 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. At night it thrives in temps between 60-65 degrees. Generally, it begins to suffer when growing in temperatures above 80 degrees. To mimic its native growing environment, you should expose this species to at least a few weeks of winter temperatures between 33-50 degrees Fahrenheit, ensuring you don’t consistently expose it to temperatures below freezing.
Coming from wetland environments, the white egret orchid loves humidity. Ideally, you’ll want to provide 70-80% humidity. You can achieve this in more arid indoor environments by adding either a pebble tray, humidifier, or both.
Growing Medium and Fertilizer
Well-aerated and well-draining loamy to sandy soils work best for this plant. You can also introduce additives to ensure drainage and consistent airflow to the roots. An equal part mixture of sand, chopped sphagnum moss, and perlite is an excellent choice for this orchid. This species does not handle a lot of fertilizer, and its sensitive roots can easily be damaged from mineral buildup. During its growing phase, feed with a diluted, liquid orchid fertilizer once every two to three weeks. Make sure to flush the growing medium periodically with running water to prevent excess mineral buildup.
2. Thunderstorm Orchid (Dendrobium crumenatum)
Native across regions of China, Southeast Asia, and islands of the South Pacific, the epiphytic thunderstorm orchid grows in temperate forests at sea level up to 1640 feet in altitude. The thunderstorm orchid (Dendrobium crumenatum) is one of over 1,000 tropical and subtropical species belonging to the Dendrobium genus.
Producing frequent bursts of short-lived but stunning white flowers, the thunderstorm orchid is an excellent plant to grow alongside species with longer-lasting blooms. As its common name suggests, this orchid tends to bloom 8-10 days after a thunderstorm, likely due to the intense rainfall and sudden temperature drop. The sepals and petals of this orchid are snow-white, the 1-2 inch wide flowers forming the appearance of an all-white starfish. The labellum is mostly white, shaped similarly to the rest of the petals, and features an eye-catching splash of yellow. This orchid is also commonly known as the dove orchid, as it strongly resembles a white dove perched on a branch before the sepals open up.
As a bifoliate orchid, this plant produces two to four pseudobulbs, which, after producing the second, have a tendency to break off and vegetatively (asexually) form a new plant, known as a keiki, which is a Hawaiian word translating as “the little one.” The leaves of the thunderstorm orchid are leathery, deciduous, and lanceolate to elliptical-shaped. Leaf production per plant often ranges from 5 to 20 leaves, so foliage can become quite dense, especially for an orchid plant.
The flowering stems can grow up to 12 inches in height and produce several flowers per stem. The blooms only last up to a day but tend to bloom many times throughout the late spring and summer months. The flower’s fragrance is often compared to the flesh of a coconut.
Orchid master growers generally consider the thunderstorm orchid beginner-friendly, but there are some growing requirements you’ll need to follow to help your plant thrive. Read on to learn all about this orchid’s plant care.
Moderate watering is appropriate for this orchid native to temperate regions. Allow the roots to dry almost entirely before watering again. Watering once weekly should suffice for growing environments with at least 50% humidity. In the winter, cut back watering to once every two weeks as long as humidity stays above 50%.
Since these plants are epiphytes, they tend to grow under the canopies of trees, where they receive filtered light. Ideally, you’ll want to provide the thunderstorm orchid with bright, indirect lighting. Placing your plant in an east-facing window can be an excellent way to achieve this lighting requirement.
Temperature and Humidity
A warm-loving temperate epiphyte, the thunderstorm orchid prefers exposure to 70-85 degrees Fahrenheit daytime temperatures during its growing phase and nighttime temperatures of 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit. Experiencing a drop in temperatures during the winter is crucial for this orchid to flower, so aim to expose this plant to temperatures around 50 degrees Fahrenheit during dormancy.
Year-round humidity should range between 50-80%, with the upper end present during its growing phase and the lower end of this range during dormancy.
Fertilization and Growing Medium
While this plant is considered easy to grow, it far prefers to be mounted rather than potted, even in a well-draining orchid potting mix. You can mount the thunderstorm orchid on various barks, including cedar, oak, palm, cork, and fern tree. Sphagnum moss and coconut fiber are ideal mediums to spread over the bark and orchid roots.
During its growing phase, you feed weekly with a water-soluble, balanced orchid fertilizer at 1/4th the dosage strength. When dormant, cut down the fertilizing schedule to once every 3-4 weeks.
3. The Tovar Masdevallia (Masdevallia tovarensis)
An epiphytic orchid native to Venezuela at altitudes between 5,250 feet to 7,875 feet, the Tovar masdevallia is cool to cold-growing, thriving in the chilly mountainous regions of its native country. Belonging to the Masdevallia genus, its botanical name is Masdevallia tovarensis, referencing the town of Tovar, Venezuela. This orchid shares its botanical genus with over 350 recognized species.
Presenting uniquely-shaped, all-white flowers, the Tovar masdevallia orchid is pure elegance, its icy-colored blooms reflecting its cold-loving nature. The shape of the blooms is rather striking as the petals, including the labellum, are tiny compared to the sepals, which are fused as one large whorl that tapers on the top and laterally into thin, elongated strips. The flowers tend to reach about 3 inches wide and are mildly fragrant.
Leaves are light green, fairly upright, ovate to elliptical, and grow on average 6 inches long. This orchid blooms in the fall and early winter, producing two to four flowers per upright stem, typically reaching up to 7 inches.
Generally, orchids in the Masdevallia genus are considered rather tricky to grow. However, Tovar masdevallia is widely regarded as the easiest to nurture of the orchids in this genus. Below we’ll discuss how to care for this cold-loving, cloud forest-dwelling epiphytic orchid.
One unique aspect of orchid care for this species is that you’ll want to provide it with the same watering schedule year-round. This orchid does not require a dormant phase to flower, so you don’t need to provide distinctly dryer conditions to encourage flower production. Additionally, all masdevallias lack pseudobulbs and have less ability to store nutrients and water. So, you’ll want to provide year-round moisture to this orchid, not letting the root system or growing medium fully dry out.
Growing high up in foggy, mountainous regions, the Tovar masdevallia orchid thrives in medium-to-bright indirect sunlight. Placing this orchid in full sun will definitely result in leaf burn and an overall decrease in plant health. Some orchid gardeners find that this species grows well in basements under grow lights. This is because the basement can also provide this plant’s cool temperatures.
Temperature and Humidity
You definitely want to stray from tropical orchid growing guides for this species of orchid. This little beauty loves cooler climates. To help your Tovar masdevallia thrive, aim to provide daytime temperatures between 59 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. At night, you’ll want to reduce temperatures by about 5 degrees. During the winter, shoot for temps between 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit.
The humidity range should be between 40-70%, and ensuring consistent air movement is crucial.
Fertilizer and Growing Medium
While it is an epiphyte, many gardeners successfully grow the Tovar masdevallia in well-draining, well-aerated potting mixes. We’d recommend choosing an orchid potting mix based on tree fern or a fine-grained fir bark with perlite and chopped sphagnum moss.
For this orchid, scale back from weekly fertilizer to about every other week using a diluted 1/4 strength balanced orchid fertilizer. This species is particularly sensitive to mineral accumulation, so it’s a good idea to wash the plant with running water between feedings to prevent the accumulation of salts.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Dwi cahyono
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