Plant Encyclopedia

How to grow fuukiran, the basics


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.

 

Naturalized Neofinetia

These wild forms of N. falcata are naturalized on a plum tree in the author's garden in Fukuoka, Japan.

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.

 

Ginsekai

This lovely Ginsekai is being grown the traditional way - on a mound of long fibered sphagnum moss.

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.

 

Neofinetia root tips

Roots start growing in spring. These lovely ruby red root tips belong to the purple flowered form, Shutennou.

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.

 

 

14 Responses to “How to grow fuukiran, the basics”

  1. Darcy Gunnlaugson says:

    Well grown, well presented. Such an exacting grower and conniseur with the ability to articulate the subtle nuiances of such success is not so easily encountered, and all blended into one individual none the less. This should become a blog for discerning and advanced plantsmen in short order, and a resource extraordinaire.

  2. Ron Burch says:

    I agree with Darcy, Bravo on the quality and style!

  3. Ted Grannan says:

    Wow, I have been toying with orchids for 30 years and I always have overlooked Neofinetia falcata. Now that I have read your information and this orchid’s interesting history. I would love to try my hand at such a simple and attractive orchid. The simplicity, history, and varieties that have been bred makes for a very interesting group of small orchids. Their presentation is so attractive! I think I will start with a fuuran first. Thanks!

  4. Jeff Tuler says:

    Hello, great article on the cold tolerance of Neo’s! I grow several different types of Neo’s and was wondering if you know if all types are cold tolerant, e.g. Bean leaf, etc….. ? Thank you, Jeff

    • tommy says:

      Hey Jeff,

      Yes, all should be reasonably similar in terms of overall cold hardiness. Perhaps ones derived from Amami Island stock may be a bit less – case in point, an Amami plant I’ve grown in a crape myrtle showed significant cold damage in the winter of 2010/11 while other forms growing right alongside were unaffected. Be careful with the orange to yellowed flowered forms though since they have quite a bit of “tropical blood” from Ascocentrum and no doubt are less hardy. Happy growing.

      Tom

  5. Jeff Tyler says:

    Hi Tom, thank you so much for the quick reply! I was expecting a reply to my email and when I did not see one I came back to your page here and found it!:-)

    I have what I think are Amami type that I’m growing outside in a frost protected area that gets night temps down to about 27-28 at the most and only for a few sparatic days in the winter. So far so good!

    I think this spring I will move some of my other types outside and see how they fair. It is very hot ( mid 90′s – over 100 degrees ) and dry here in the summer with humidity levels dropping down to 26 % on some days. So the summer may be more of any issue than the winter but I want to experiment and see.

    Thanks again! Jeff

  6. Jean says:

    I originally got here looking for affordable furan pots (sorry for the clueless question). Have since been reading the very well written articles to learn more about this very beautiful art of growing orchids on this site. I particularly liked the videos showing the variety of flowers, leaf types, etc. It was a pleasure to watch the expertly edited videos.

    • tommy says:

      Thank you Jean. Japanese made Neofinetia pots are not cheap to be sure. I’m at least glad you liked the videos and articles. I’ve been meaning to add more, but as you know, time is in limited quantity!

  7. Prudhomme says:

    I really love those plants , the things is : they are very difficult to buy in France , do you have an idea ? I have just been thrown from a ebay bid , they dont want to sell to Europe !!

  8. Jorge says:

    Hi. I’m growing my neos inside, and I keep them on the second floor of my town house. The temps are pretty steady in the mid to high 60s. They are potted in the traditional form, and they dry out after about two days. I’m using a spray bottle to keep them watered, and the room they are kept in is anywhere from 40 to 60 % humidity. Does that seem to be okay for winter care? I’m afraid to keep them anywhere too cold because I kept some in colder conditions outside and they froze. They’re not cheap plants so I don’t want a repitition of that. Any advice or opinions are appreciated.

    • tommy says:

      I think you should be OK with that winter set up. They don’t necessarily need very cold temperatures in winter since they are successfully grown in tropical countries such as Thailand. They can take down to 28F or even a bit lower without trouble, but beyond that and you’ll start to see damage. If you cool them down and “dry” them off a bit in winter that should be enough. In growth they like lots of moisture and heat. Some folks grow them near window panes to simulate winter conditions which is fine too.

  9. John says:

    Great article and video too. Always enjoy your videos and articles. Thank you. You mentioned neo grows successfully in Thailand. I wonder which part of Thailand? Do you know any neo nursery in Asia selling neo flasks for purchase ? Thanks again.

    • tommy says:

      Thanks John. The ones I heard about were in Bangkok, so a tropical climate. I don’t have any details about them though. I do see flasks for sale here sometimes, but they are as a rule small with just a handful of plants in each (obviously replated). You may want to contact Seed Engei about this: http://www.seed-engei.com My understanding is the production via flask on a mass scale is happening in Korea for the most part.

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