Neofinetia falcata is an easily grown orchid. In nature it grows on trees or sometimes rocks, and is termed epiphytic in habit (literally meaning “a plant growing on the outside of something”). Therefore, they cannot tolerate being planted in soil, but instead require other composts that remain airy and do not break down quickly. They also are very resistant to cold in winter compared to most other epiphytic orchids. They do need a true cool winter rest to flower and grow correctly, but just as important is a long, warm, and moist summer season. Fuukiran, being special forms of N. falcata, respond to the same basic conditions as the typical wild form of the species.
Let’s start with proper planting. The wild forms of Neofinetia falcata, known as fuuran in Japanese, can be grown like they are in nature, that is, mounted to outside trees in appropriate climates or onto tree fern plaques, any nontoxic wood, or for that matter onto rough stone such a pumice. I grow large ones on inverted clay flower pots very successfully. They can also be grown like their tropical relatives such as Vanda and Ascocentrum, in clay pots or baskets with little compost. Some people grow them in a typical orchid bark and perlite mix with reasonable success. As long as the growing medium isn’t allowed to break down too much or stay continually wet, thus insuring healthy roots, they will grow fine using any of these methods.
Fuukiran, being of such high value, are usually handled with more care, especially in Japan, but also by growers worldwide who have learned traditional growing techniques perfected over the centuries. In short, plants are grown on top of a mound of high quality, long fibered sphagnum moss that is ball shaped and hollow at its core. This ball of moss sits in a pot that allows for maximum air movement around the roots. That, I’m afraid is a really tough thing to imagine if you’ve never seen it, so I’ll have to go into detail about how this ball is made and how to incorporate the plant into it. Repotting them in this manner should be done in late winter, just before they commence their growth cycle. If you repot them at other times you can damage growing root tips and delay proper growth during their growing season. Check out this video to see how to pot them the traditional way:
If you do decide to mount your fuukiran onto wood or tree fern, I recommend putting down a thin layer of sphagnum moss over the area of attachment to give the roots a water source between wettings. Neofinetia roots do not like to remain wet continuously, especially during their dormancy, but they do like a layer of moss to grow onto. I’ve had good success attaching plants to trees in my yard this way as well. I prefer to use fine fishing line to wire them on since it is strong and difficult to see. Usually within one growing season a new plant will be firmly rooted onto its mount and it time you’ll find that individual roots can extend 40 cm (16 inches) or more.
Check out this video of Neofinetia falcata and other Japanese orchids growing in my garden in Fukuoka Prefecture in the snow one cold January day:
The next most important issues are temperature and watering. I’ll handle them together since they directly influence the plant’s happiness synchronously. This species comes from subtropical to warm temperate regions of Japan and Korea that get distinct seasons. In winter it is cool to even cold most of the time with temperatures ranging between -5 C to 15 C (23 F to 60 C), but these end points mark the extremes. Here in Fukuoka Prefecture a typical day in January will bottom out just above freezing, say 2 C (35 F) and rise to 8 C (46 F) by afternoon. These conditions in no way harm plants, nor are they required for an adequate dormancy, which these plants do require to grow and flower properly. My suggestion is that you drop growing temperatures to at least 10 C – 15 C (50 F – 60 F) during the winter months (December through mid March), and back off watering so that they don’t stay wet very long. If your conditions are humid (above 70%) you shouldn’t need to water more than once a week. If you grow inside a house, you may water more, but don’t overdo it.
When daylight increases and temperatures rise in April, begin watering more often. Temperatures in the 15 C – 25 C range (60 F – 77 F) are ideal at this time. You will notice that root tips will begin growing again, and new roots will initiate along the attachment points of the leaf axes. As June comes increase watering, especially if temperatures start to average above 25 C (77 C). June is the time of the monsoon in Japan, so it is OK to water the plants freely at this point. The best time to water is in early evening. I water daily once the heat kicks in. Also at this time you should start fertilizing the plants once again. Any water soluble fertilizer with micronutrients works well. Ideally they should be fed once a week while in active growth. I use a fairly weak solution, about half normal strength.
By late June (earlier if you grow inside) you will begin to see the flower stalks growing. This is the happy time for a fuukiran grower! Take care when watering as the stalks develop since direct watering onto them can cause them to blast, in particular sensitive plants like Seikai and Unkai. Also watch for pests at this time. While most of the year pests don’t usually cause a problem, flower stalks with their soft new tissues are a delicacy to many bugs. I find that mealy bugs in particular love them and so you must remain vigilant. Avoid any drying at this time to insure that the flowers last as long as possible. The best you can expect is around 2 weeks for most.
After flowering is over I recommend removing any seed pods that have developed. These will only burden the plants. Keep up with watering on a daily basis and routine fertilizing. As temperatures peak you may be forced to add more shading to the growing area. Neofinetia falcata are naturally forest dwellers, so direct sun is not good for them. Also, higher heat increases water loss from the leaves, so decreasing light levels at this time along with adequate watering will ensure your plants thrive even during blistering periods. August 2010 was the hottest year on record in Japan. The average temperature for Fukuoka City was 30.3 C (86.5 F) with highs up to 34 C – 36 C (93 F – 97 F) daily and nights only down around 26 C – 29 C (79 F – 84 F). I was watering my plants to beat the band and they came through with flying colors. While I wouldn’t recommend such temperatures, these plants can handle it and even thrive. A good average temperature for summer is between 25 C and 28 C (77 C and 82 C), but cooler is fine too.
Fall is a time of dropping temperatures, falling light levels, and decreasing rain. It also is the time when Neofinetia initiate their flower stalks for next year, so you need to take care of them correctly. It is said that some growers change their fertilizer to one that favors phosphorous so as to get better blooming. That may indeed work well, but honestly I don’t bother. It is important to water plants adequately at this time so that the newly developed flowering shoots stay hydrated and healthy. They are visible in some cases as a very small growth that looks somewhat like a new growth, but is more elongate. Sometimes they remain hidden under the attachment point of the leaf until the next spring, but often you can see a slight bulge.
Once true winter hits in late December I dry the plants off quite a bit, keeping them just barely moist. The trick is to keep them hydrated without rotting the roots in the colder conditions. In warmer conditions, say above 15 C (60 C) if you water too much they will break dormancy. Another problem during this time is keeping those new flower stalks alive through the winter. If kept too dry they will die, so don’t desiccate the plants and keep the humidity above 50%, with 70% – 80% being preferable. At this time it is OK to give the plants more light as well since in their native homes they often grow on deciduous trees and are subject to more sunshine, albeit weak winter sunshine. Also, no fertilizer at this time at all. Wait ’til spring when you see roots starting to grow, then you can begin feeding again.
All in all, I find fuukiran easy to grow and flower, in fact they may be the easiest Japanese orchid species to keep. If you use the above information as a guideline, I can almost guarantee you will succeed with these little beauties too.