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Dendrochilum - Trey's experiences with growing them

Dendrochilum is a large genus of plants. Currently 318 are described and there are many more undescribed plants in the wild and cultivation that I am aware of.

Dendrochilum are primarily found in montane and submontane forests at elevations between 1,000-2,500 metres. The preferred type of forest for many species is wet and mossy cloud forest. Some species are found up as high as 3,800 metres in very cold conditions while others are found at sea level on mangroves around Singapore in hot conditions. This makes generalising culture for Dendrochilum inadvisable. One thing that I discovered from observing them in the wild is that they like more light than I originally thought. I have since increased the level of light they receive in the greenhouse.

The picture above shows many orchids including Dendrochilum growing in thick moss. Dendrochilum wichersii can be seen cascading from the tree branches. The plants are growing just beneath the tree canopy and at about 25 metres (82 feet) up. Photo: Trey Sanders

Dendrochilum ophiopogonoides var. korintjiense Growing in full sun in a swamp in Sumatra. The humidity in the swamp averages 82%, higher than the average of 78% elsewhere nearby. Please note that this is the first time that photographs of this species have been published anywhere. Photo: Trey Sanders

What makes Dendrochilum a rewarding genus to grow is the sheer number of flowers that a plant can produce when grown well. Not all species produce long inflorescences of many small flowers but most of the plants in cultivation do. There are even miniature species that are well suited to vivarium and paludarium growing. To learn how to grow a Dendrochilum well in cultivation you need to understand how they grow in the wild.

I estimate that the plant above of Dendrochilum af korintjiense has approximately 70,000 flowers on it! The plant is growing in full sun on the edge of the forest. Photo: Trey Sanders

This plant of Dendrochilum arachnites in our national collection, has flowered profusely every year since increasing the amount of light it receives. We used the photo above as inspiration. Photo: Trey Sanders

One thing Dendrochilum like a lot of is moisture. Don’t ever allow Dendrochilum to stay dry for long. There is one group of Dendrochilum, the ‘convallariaeforme’ group, that seem to like conditions drier than most others in the genus. I always advise not to let plants dry out. There are some growers, that keep pots in trays with water, but caution is needed before adopting this approach. Make sure that plants are given good quality water.

Dendrochilum like humidity, an average of 65-80% humidity is suitable. If humidity is too high and air movement low or non-existent new growths will rot. I grow in a greenhouse with a hydrofogger, this blows a gentle cool mist over the plants which they seem to like.

Plants divide easily but if you want to grow a specimen plant, I recommend letting them grow. Specimen plants can look breathtaking such as the two plants below.

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