Plant Encyclopedia

Cultivating Paphiopedilum armeniacum, the cold hardy Chinese yellow slipper orchid


In the summer of 2013 I bought a nice flowering division of the cold hardy Chinese slipper orchid, Paphiopedilum armeniacum. I’d tried this species before, but always started with a rather weak plant, and looking back, they probably were all wild collected. The new plant was healthy, with very strong roots and a flower that lasted a long time – a good sign a plant is happy.

This species is known for growing long stolons between growths, unlike most other Paphiopedilums, making it difficult to keep in a traditional pot for very long. I’d seen masterfully grown plants in big flat trays and hanging baskets, and instantly wanted to try my hand at growing this species that way too. Check out this link to see the grower that inspired me to try this method: Paphiopedilum armeniacum basket culture success story.

The first season I let the plant grow in the small pot it came in, but in March of 2014, I planted it into a standard hanging basket with a coconut fiber shell (figure 1). I punctured the dense fibers of the coconut liner to allow water and the stolons of the plant to easy pass through. The growing mix was pretty standard for this species, a mix of large diameter perlite and pumice gravel, fine bark and chunks of charcoal. The plant was kept in a semi-shaded area hanging from a sasanqua bush, Camellia sasanqua, where it received plenty of summer rain and was fertilized regularly.

 

Paphiopedilum armeniacum 2014

Figure 1: Paphiopedilum armeniacum in March 2014.

 

The plant was taken in during the worst winter weather even though this species is known for enduring repeated frost. In winter watering was held to a bare minimum, but humidity levels were maintained over 50%. By the spring of 2016 the plant had grown steadily, increasing from one main growth and three smaller ones, to three adult growths and two slightly smaller ones (figure 2). Though I was encouraged that it grew fairly well, something seemed not quite right, so I decided to replant it into fresh medium.

 

Paphiopedilum armeniacum summer 2016

Figure 2: The same plant two years later. It looks good, but not quite thriving.

 

The plant was removed from the basket easily, meaning it wasn’t rooted in very firmly – not a great sign. Indeed, the growing medium was a bit soaked and showing signs of breaking down and becoming compacted. The coconut husk as well was rotting, especially at the bottom where I had cut a large drainage hole. After washing off the roots, it was clear that while the plant’s overall health was OK, the roots were not up to par (figure 3).

 

Paphiopedilum armeniacum bare root

Figure 3: The plant bare root and washed. The growths are healthy, but the roots are just so-so.

 

The new set up involved lining the basket with plastic coated chicken wire and lining it with high grade New Zealand sphagnum moss around two centimeters thick. The new mix was similar to the old one – a combination of coarse perlite and pumice, charcoal, and a handful of Cryptomoss (shredded bark of the Japanese cedar tree, Cryptomeria japonica). As a top dressing, more sphagnum was placed to ensure the leaves were not in contact with the growing medium below (figures 4 and 5).

 

Paphiopedilum armeniacum planted

Figure 4: The plant newly situated. The growing medium is both free draining and water retentive.

 

Paphiopedilum armeniacum moss

Figure 5: With a top dressing of sphagnum, the plant is ready to return to the garden.

 

I am interested to see what happens next. The current planting is much more free draining than the previous one, hopefully more closely simulating this plant’s natural habitat where it trails over mossy rock faces and steep slopes. In future years I look forward to it producing many more growths and hopefully handfuls of flowers!

 

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