The “only” easy to grow terrestrial orchid – Bletilla striata

Here’s a terrestrial orchid that is not only common, but can also take a fair amount of abuse and live to tell the tale.  The bulbous rhizomes can be packaged for some months, completely rootless, and yet when planted they will grow on and even flower.  Ironically, while this species is so easy to grow and is available at big box stores the world over, it also is very rare in the wild these days. Bletilla striata is a perennial, deciduous orchid of open environments.  The grass-like leaves, numbering between 4-8, grow tightly along a central, thick stem to the height of 30-50 cm on average.  The leaves are bright green and deeply ribbed, giving the overall impression of an unflowering plant as that of a typical palm tree seedling.

Bletilla striata clump
Bletilla striata can form clumps of a hundred or more stems.

The flower stalk arises out of the top of the leaves at the apex of the main stem and can extend for another 30 cm or more.  The typically pink-purple flowers occur in an alternating pattern along its length and open sequentually, yet several are in flower at any given time.  The flower stalks start out in a vertical position, but as more flowers open, they tend to sag down and become horizontal to the ground.

Bletilla striata, mixed forms
The author’s garden showing various color forms of Bletilla striata growing in one patch.

The flowers, which can number up to 10 or more per stalk, have a very classical orchid shape, something like a Cattleya, and are about 6 cm across.  The sepals and petals are solid pink-purple and are of similar shape and size.  The partially tubular lip is deeply ribbed with a ruffles at the end, and these are often streaked white.  The column is long and descending, becoming broader at its tip.  Plants quickly clump and individuals can number a hundred stems or more in time.

In Japan this species typically flowers from April through May.  Preferring bright environments, it can be found on forest edges, low mountain meadows, rocky cliff faces, marshlands, and along rivers in exposed, sunny environments. River “improvements”, and damn building has lead to the species becoming very rare in nature.
Continue reading “The “only” easy to grow terrestrial orchid – Bletilla striata”