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Death Bin Orchid / Questions


I Am the Terror Of the Night!
Upon my nightly scuttle, I happened upon a very nice phalaenopsis.
Im a sucker for the Doom-Bin plants at the back of the supermarket.

However, I normally never buy orchids because im very skilled at killing them.
Also, I dont really know much about them. I currently have a vanilla orchid,
but thats the extent of my orchidry.

Is there anything special I should do for the orchids? Im planning on introducing
the new one with my nepenthes.

Also, Should I be worried about orchid viruses? Im extremely distru****l of
supermarket orchids and have no idea how to tell if they are diseased or not.
I would rather not infect my vanilla orchid, as it has just started to grow for me.

The Culprit
: Note the leaves. They are extremely floppy and un- rigid to the touch. Almost like a rubber mat.
However, the media is near desert dryness. This was a 5$ orchid afterall.

The Stem.


The lowest leaf feels like that of a grandmotherly character.


Final Concern - One leaf was crushed on something long before I got to it, but the leaf itself is splitting straight down the middle. Is this accident or Virus?
Is there anything to worry about or is this a clean orchid??



The plant is dehydrated. From what I can see it has at least some healthy roots, so it certainly isn't beyond hope, even for an experienced orchid killer! Personally I would repot it in something that makes watering more controllable than sphagnum. Bark chunks, lava rock, leca, or even smooth river pebbles can all work. The easiest way to keep Phalaenopsis IMO is in clear containers so I can see the roots. Phalaenopsis roots turn silver when dry, and are green when hydrated. With a healthy plant I water heavily when the roots are silver, let them soak up a bunch of water and turn green, then wait until they're silver before watering again. With a dehydrated plant I wouldn't let the roots dry that much. As soon as they get a hint of silver water again. For best growth don't let them drop below 60 F at night, although mine saw mid 40s on occasion without dying back.
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As far as your virus concerns, the damage to the leaf looks like simple physical damage to me. To avoid infecting your other plant IF your Phalaenopsis is infected, first and foremost tend the vanilla first when working on your plants. Wash your hands well between plants.Don't let the same water or tools touch both plants. Avoid physical contact between the two. Watch for sucking insects like a hawk, they're how viruses usually spread unless a person comes along and does the job.
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And flame all cutting tools.

The oft-heard "all supermarket orchids have virus" mantra is apocryphal and based largely on the presumption that the popular striped/mottled/spotted Phalaenopsis got their markings from viruses. While that might be true in isolated cases, it is largely total baloney since several species (look up P. stuartiana, and P. gigantea for starters) have genes that are quite capable of producing outrageous markings when hybridized.
Think about it: plant viruses are well-studied phenomena and the deleterious action on the host plant is something we understand quite well these days. Virused plants perform less optimally than their "clean" counterparts, often producing fewer blooms, smaller and sometimes conspicuously crippled plants, not to mention the risk they pose to non-virused inventory in a production scenario. In other words, there is great incentive to the grower to exclude virused cultivars from their facilities.

But hey - everyone loves a good myth!

Phalaenopsis Culture for Beginners
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There have been a number of documented instances of virus in Phalaenopsis imported from Taiwan, and infected Phals are surprisingly often asymptomatic for two of the most common orchid viruses, ORSV and CymMV. Supposedly the Taiwanese producers have implemented better cultural practices in response to the bad press this generated a few years ago, so it may not be as much of an issue as it once was.

Your plant doesn't show any obvious sign of virus, but the only way to really tell for sure whether a plant is positive or negative is by testing it, which is probably not worthwhile for a mass produced bargain bin plant. As John and Paul said, controlling potential insect vectors and using sterile tools will generally prevent spread to other plants. If you're really worried about virus and don't want to test each plant yourself, it's best to buy from nurseries that have their own testing regimes and warrant plants to be virus-free.
Don't entirely agree with Paul here ... And wish to add a bit too of clarification to his first statement.

First a clarification wIth regards to flaming all cutting tools ... My understanding is that one should not use a butane flame (as from a lighter) as it does not burn hot enough. Flaming of tools is usually recommended between each cut, but should definitely be done between plants.

Virus-wise, it is possible to obtain a virused plant even from a reputable grower. A well grown plant may be virused yet show no signs of being so. It is not unlike some diseases which can lay "dormant" in the body of an animal until some factor/sress weakens the host. Furthermore, there are other issues which can cause virus-like symptoms. For this reason, it is best to practice sterilization of tools and pots, isolation of suspected virused or otherwise ailing plants. Suspected plants can be virus tested or, if the plant is common and cheap, be destroyed. Burning is generally touted as the best method. Do not compost a virused plant.

Considering the huge number of orchids a large scale operation like those in Asia will have in the works at one time, it would be difficult and financially prohibitive to virus test each orchid. In this regard, there is indeed a chance of obtaining an infected plant and the grower might be honestly unaware of the problem. The supermarkets or BBSs they supply would almost assuredly be clueless. Smaller operations may be more likely to catch any infected plants in their stock if they have raised the plants up themselves or have had them for a number of years. However, there is a caveat which must be mentioned. Currently, because of the expenses involved in growing orchids, many smaller operations obtain their plant material as seedlings to blooming sized plants from those very same large scale growers in order to offer a truly diverse array of offerings to their customers. As such, they too may have some infected plants.

With regards to you wilted plant. It will take some time for it to perk back up -- much longer than many typical houseplants do. I would unpot the plant and check the roots and the media. As long as the roots are in good shape and the media has not degraded, it should be fine. Phals, IME, tend to be quite adaptable. What type of media is in the pot?

Ah, I see Nathaniel chiming in while I was eating and typing.

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Wow thanks everybody. Thats helps quite a bit
As far as viruses go though, it sounds like its pretty random and
no sure way to tell if they have it...

What type of media is in the pot?

Currently, it is in dry sphagnum wrapped in a rather tight plastic pot.
Im planning on repotting soon, but not quite sure if I should leave the sphagnum
or remove it. I have orchid bark to switch over.
Let me say that the statements following mine are also quite reasonable and accurate. My comments were intended to address the "all supermarket orchids are virused" meme I hear from people all too often, and was not intended to suggest that there aren't plenty of virused Orchids out there, but the grocery store "disposable gift orchids" aren't by any means the Lone Perpetrators that some would like to suggest.

Just as it is in any collection of heirloom Roses, Orchids of a certain age often (but not always) come infected with virus (usually ORSV and/or CymMV). The "old school" Cattleyas from the 1940s-1980s are especially prone to bringing one or more viruses along with them, simply because they have had decades to acquire viruses (through insect vectors or - more often - contaminated pruning tools) and they are from an era of Orchid growing when little was known about virus, and most growers were oblivious about it. There are some famous Cattleya clones still in collections and still being traded/sold that cannot be found virus-free. When you're talking about a specific cultivar that was bred in the 1940s (just for example), its possible that there was a time when there were only one or two plants left anywhere, and so every plant still in existence may have come from a single plant at one time. Now, if that one plant was virused.....every copy of it made from that point on will be virused too.

That said, not all cultivars that have a virus show visual symptoms. Some of these older heirloom plants grow just fine with the virus in them and you may never see evidence of the pathogen. Unless you opt to buy only certified virus-free clones and have all others lab tested, you cannot be sure just by looking. And if you do opt to keep a few heirloom types that are in the high risk category, be sure to sterilize cutting tools when moving from one plant to the next.
[MENTION=3862]paul[/MENTION]: about flame sterilizing tools: I would be surprised if butane torches are insufficient to the task. I use a three jet cigar torch and it can make a stainless steel scissors glow orange hot in seconds! How much hotter does it need to be?!
When referencing a lighter, if I recall correctly, it was the commonly used cigarette lighters like Bic or the other cheapest most commonly found in circulation. Interesting about your cigar lighter. Why would one need a 3 jet lighter to light a cigar? (Not being a smoker myself, I have no experience to draw from as to such a lighters possible benefits.)

Nem, color break on the flowers is often an indicator when it hits many of the flowers and happens more than once.

You can, if you wish, grow it in straight sphag. I have done so on numerous occasions with no problems. However, with one exception, I have never used it tightly packed in the pot. If you do use orchid bark, you may find it useful to include some sphag. It will depend upon your growing conditions and may take some experimentation. When you go to remove the sphag, submerge and soak the rootball for around 10-15 min. The sphag will be easier to remove and the roots will be more flexible.

  • #10
Just to chime in. As Paul said, for some clones it is almost impossible to find virus free plants. Good techniques will help prevent the spread of the virus. I do not know if the common orchid viruses can be spread to other varieties of plants. I have gone to the expensive of testing my breeding stock, roughly $10 a plant if I do at least ten plants at a time. And have destroyed plants that have tested positive. BUT, if I had a plant just because I wanted it in my collection, I would not worry about testing but would act as if it was infected and take precautions.
  • #11
Hi Nem,

I also recently picked-up two bargain/post-valentines day orchids at a local Wal-Mart. And like your bargain deal, mine came with some sad news. After bringing both plants home I dusted off the neon green artificial moss to get a better look at the roots. On the first plant I had only one good green/white root after removing the compressed sphagnum media. The second plant was a little more fortunate and had 4-5 healthy roots! I'll report back in a few weeks, but I took immediate action to re-pot both plants. I cut the flowers off the first plant to force it to save energy to produce more roots rather than towards new flowers (hopefully it will pay-off later).

Anyway, here are some before and after photos:

Here is the second plant in its original pot
<a data-flickr-embed="true" href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/sovetskjeff/24925404229/in/dateposted-public/" title="Original"><img src="https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1523/24925404229_79b7d0f08e_b.jpg" width="768" height="1024" alt="Original"></a><script async src="//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js" ch****t="utf-8"></script>

You can the see the roots don't look too healthy
<a data-flickr-embed="true" href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/sovetskjeff/24997472660/in/dateposted-public/" title="Before"><img src="https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1548/24997472660_db8f9558c5_b.jpg" width="1024" height="768" alt="Before"></a><script async src="//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js" ch****t="utf-8"></script>

Same on the other side
<a data-flickr-embed="true" href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/sovetskjeff/25293049835/in/dateposted-public/" title="Before"><img src="https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1637/25293049835_d940a02b5d_b.jpg" width="1024" height="768" alt="Before"></a><script async src="//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js" ch****t="utf-8"></script>

Here is the first plant I repotted with 1 good root. We'll see if it makes it. You'll notice, again, that I removed the flower stalks
<a data-flickr-embed="true" href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/sovetskjeff/25174809732/in/dateposted-public/" title="After 3"><img src="https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1708/25174809732_7c6644f079_b.jpg" width="1024" height="768" alt="After 3"></a><script async src="//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js" ch****t="utf-8"></script>

Second plant repotted
<a data-flickr-embed="true" href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/sovetskjeff/24925398499/in/dateposted-public/" title="Photo Feb 26, 9 22 23 PM (1)"><img src="https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1670/24925398499_a6a4bc5bd5_b.jpg" width="1024" height="768" alt="Photo Feb 26, 9 22 23 PM (1)"></a><script async src="//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js" ch****t="utf-8"></script>

Second plant with flowers. I felt this one had enough roots to support flowers and further vegetative growth
<a data-flickr-embed="true" href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/sovetskjeff/25293046075/in/dateposted-public/" title="After 2"><img src="https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1542/25293046075_0ee6648631_b.jpg" width="768" height="1024" alt="After 2"></a><script async src="//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js" ch****t="utf-8"></script>
  • #12
Good luck Jeff, Those look like some really nice orchids man.
Keep us updated here

As for my orchid, its finally starting to perk back up.
All of the flowers have fallen off, except for the showiest one
that original caught my eye. However... This orchid is now 3x bigger than when I bought it.
The water seems to have done the trick


The roots have greened up nicely. (Excuse the stockpile of bread and counter clutter)