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!


7 Replies to “Cultivating Paphiopedilum armeniacum, the cold hardy Chinese yellow slipper orchid”

  1. You probably need to add some limestone to the mix, such as dolomite chips or crushed seashells, and try watering with hard water sometimes.

    1. I agree. I may add some this season. The water supply here is hard water, so that may help, though most of my orchids don’t appreciate it! BTW, the plant is growing well and with any hope will flower some day.

      1. The coconut fibers are very acidic. Try to soaking them in water for a month they will turn the water to black ink color, testing the water you will see.

        1. Indeed. That was one reason I replanted it without the fiber, using just screen mesh instead. Of course as the sphagnum degrades (as well as the tree bark), it can become more acidic as well. I have since added crushed oyster shell, and I add a bit of dolomitic lime each year too. It is doing fairly well, but hasn’t flowered yet. Hopefully it will do better this year.

  2. Hi, thanks for your articles. I live in Kyoto, and am a fan of orchids, especially lady slippers. Do you know where I can buy some? They hardly ever appear in the shops I frequent. Thanks again.

  3. The best place to buy orchids is in person if you can. Large events like the Tokyo Grand Prix held in February has a bunch of vendors to choose from, but prices can vary widely. My recommendation is to contact any of the following organizations for nurseries in your area and upcoming events:

    Japan Orchid Growers Association:

    Dr. Tanaka’s Paph Page:

    Kansai Paph Guild:

    You can also buy through online auctions like Yahoo Auctions and Rakuten. Quality can vary a lot, but if you find a good exhibitor, then you can get good stuff too.

  4. Try In Charm orchids in Taiwan for PAPH Armeniacum. They are seed grown
    I grow mine successfully in a basket of coarsley chopped Beech leaves. The chopping is tedious but the blooms are worth waiting for
    The plant needs calcium to keep the ph up
    Feed with calcium nitrate , fairly dilute
    A cool period from November to February is essential, down to 6 Fahrenheit,and a dry is held regime when cool

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