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Closeup of a Phalaenopsis flower
Closeup of a Phalaenopsis flower
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Liliopsida
Order: Asparagales
Family: Orchidaceae
Subfamily: Epidendroideae
Tribe: Vandeae
Subtribe: Aeridinae
Alliance: Phalaenopsis
Genus: Phalaenopsis
Blume 1825
Type species
Phalaenopsis amabilis
Blume, (1825)

See text.

Phalaenopsis (Blume 1825) is a genus of approximately 60 species of orchids (family Orchidaceae). The abbreviation in the horticultural trade is Phal.



The generic name originates from the Greek phalaina, "moth" and opsis, "like", descriptive of the inflorescences of some species, which resemble moths in flight. For this reason, the species are sometimes called Moth orchids.

They are native throughout southeast Asia from the Himalayan mountains to the islands of Polillo and Palawan of the Philippines and northern Australia. Orchid Island off Taiwan is named after this orchid. Little is known about their habitat and their ecology in nature since little field research has been done in the last decades.

Phalaenopsis amabilis (Moon Orchid)

Most are epiphytic shade plants; a few are lithophytes. In the wild they are typically found below the canopies of moist and humid lowland forests, protected against direct sunlight, but equally in seasonally dry or cool environments. The species have adapted individually to these three habitats.

Phalaenopsis shows a monopodial growth habit. An erect growing rhizome produces from the top one or two alternate, thick and fleshy, elleptical leaves a year. The older, basal leaves drop off at the same rate. The plant retains in this way four to five leaves. If very healthy, they can have up to ten or more leaves. They have no pseudobulbs. The raceme appears from the stem between the leaves. They bloom in their full glory for several weeks. If kept in the home, they usually last two to three months, which is considered quite a long time.


The species can be classified into two groups :

  • A group with a long, branched inflorescence (up to 1 m long) and large, almost round flowers with rose or white tints.
  • A group with short stems and less rounded, waxy flowers with more pronounced colors.

In terms of particular lifeform terminology, one can also characterize these plants as hemicryptophyte or chamerophyte :

  • hemicryptophyte (abbr.: hemicr.) : biennial or perennial plants with herbaceous stems. These stems die off after the growing season, while the shoots survive at soil level. The resting buds are just above or below soil level.
  • chamaephyte (abbr. cham.) : low-growing plants with herbaceous and/or woody stems, that persist for several years. Their buds are on soil level or just above; but never above 50 cm.

The genera Doritis Lindl. and Kingidium P.F.Hunt are now included in Phalaneopsis, based on DNA-evidence (according to the World Checklist of Monocotyledons, Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew) (See also ref 1). However this is not implicitly accepted by every specialist in this field.

Intensive cross-fertilization has produced a great number of hybrids in all colors and variations. These are usually more adaptable to artificial conditions than their botanical ancestors. Most are hybrids of Phalaenopsis amabilis with Phalaenopsis schilleriana or Phalaenopsis stuartiana.


Phalaenopsis 'Barbara Moler' x 'Johanna' (a hybrid cultivar)
Phalaenopsis 'Mambo' (a hybrid cultivar)
Phalaenopsis 'Nivacolor' (a hybrid cultivar)

Natural hybrids

A Phalaenopsis hybrid
  • Phalaenopsis × amphitrita (P. sanderiana × P. stuartiana; Philippines).
  • Phalaenopsis × gersenii (P. sumatrana × P. violacea; Borneo, Sumatra).
  • Phalaenopsis × intermedia (P. aphrodite × P. equestris; Star of Leyte; Philippines) (First recognized Phalaenopsis hybrid)
  • Phalaenopsis × leucorrhoda (P. aphrodite × P. schilleriana; Philippines).
  • Phalaenopsis × singuliflora (P. bellina × P. sumatrana; Borneo).
  • Phalaenopsis × veitchiana (P. equestris × P. schilleriana; Philippines).

Intergeneric hybrids

  • xAeridopsis (Aerangis x Phalaenopsis)
  • xArachnopsis (Arachnis x Phalaenopsis)
  • xAsconopsis (Ascocentrum x Phalaenopsis)
  • xBeardara (Ascocentrum x Doritis x Phalaenopsis)
  • xBogardara (Ascocentrum x Phalaenopsis x Vanda x Vandopsis)
  • xBokchoonara (Arachnis x Ascocentrum x Phalaenopsis x Vanda)
  • xCleisonopsis (Cleisocentron x Phalaenopsis)
  • xDevereuxara (Ascocentrum x Phalaenopsis x Vanda)
  • xDiplonopsis (Diploprora x Phalaenopsis)
  • xDoriellaopsis (Doritis x Kingiella x Phalaenopsis)
  • xDoritaenopsis (Doritis x Phalaenopsis)
  • xDresslerara (Ascoglossum x Phalaenopsis x Renanthera )
  • xEdeara (Arachnis x Phalaenopsis x Renanthera x Vandopsis)
  • xErnestara (Phalaenopsis x Renanthera x Vandopsis)
  • xEurynopsis (Eurychone x Phalaenopsis)
  • xHagerara (Doritis x Phalaenopsis x Vanda)
  • xHausermannara (Doritis x Phalaenopsis x Vandopsis)
  • xHimoriara (Ascocentrum x Phalaenopsis x Rhynchostylis x Vanda)
  • xIsaoara (Aerangis x Ascocentrum x Phalaenopsis x Vanda)
  • xLaycockara (Arachnis x Phalaenopsis x Vandopsis)
  • xLichtara (Doritis x Gastrochilus x Phalaenopsis)
  • xLuinopsis (Luisia x Phalaenopsis)
  • xLutherara (Phalaenopsis x Renanthera x Rhynchostylis )
  • xMacekara (Arachnis x Phalaenopsis x Renanthera x Vanda x Vandopsis)
  • xMeechaiara (Ascocentrum x Doritis x Phalaenopsis x Rhynchostylis x Vanda)
  • xMoirara (Phalaenopsis x Renanthera x Vanda)
  • xNakagawaara (Aerangis x Doritis x Phalaenopsis)
  • xOwensara (Doritis x Phalaenopsis x Renanthera )
  • xParnataara (Aerangis x Arachnis x Phalaenopsis)
  • xPaulara (Ascocentrum x Doritis x Phalaenopsis x Renanthera x Vanda)
  • xPepeara (Ascocentrum x Doritis x Phalaenopsis x Renanthera )
  • xPhalaerianda (Aerangis x Phalaenopsis x Vanda)
  • xPhalandopsis (Phalaenopsis x Vandopsis)
  • xPhalanetia (Neofinetia x Phalaenopsis)
  • xPhaliella (Kingiella x Phalaenopsis)
  • xPooleara (Ascocentrum x Ascoglossum x Phalaenopsis x Renanthera )
  • xRenanthopsis (Phalaenopsis x Renanthera )
  • xRhynchonopsis (Phalaenopsis x Rhynchostylis)
  • xRhyndoropsis (Doritis x Phalaenopsis x Rhynchostylis)
  • xRichardmizutaara (Ascocentrum x Phalaenopsis x Vandopsis)
  • xRoseara (Doritis x Kingiella x Phalaenopsis x Renanthera )
  • xSappanara (Arachnis x Phalaenopsis x Renanthera)
  • xSarconopsis (Phalaenopsis x Sarcochilus)
  • xSidranara (Ascocentrum x Phalaenopsis x Renanthera)
  • xSladeara (Doritis x Phalaenopsis x Sarcochilus)
  • xStamariaara (Ascocentrum x Phalaenopsis x Renanthera x Vanda)
  • xSutingara (Arachnis x Ascocentrum x Phalaenopsis x Vanda x Vandopsis)
  • xTrautara (Doritis x Luisia x Phalaenopsis)
  • xTrevorara (Arachnis x Phalaenopsis x Vanda)
  • xTrichonopsis (Phalaenopsis x Trichoglottis)
  • xUptonara (Phalaenopsis x Rhynchostylis x Sarcochilus)
  • xVandaenopsis (Phalaenopsis x Vanda)
  • xVandewegheara (Ascocentrum x Doritis x Phalaenopsis x Vanda)
  • xYapara (Phalaenopsis x Rhynchostylis x Vanda)
  • xYeepengara (Aerides x Phalaenopsis x Rhynchostylis x Vanda)

There is no true intergeneric hybrid between Phalaenopsis and the closely related Paraphalaenopsis. However, according to the RHS, there is a grex (i.e. all orchids derived from crossing the same two or more parent species; the name also covers all offspring from that particular cross). Phalphalaenopsis Doris Thornton is currently the one and only registered (1977) grex that represents a cross between a Paraphalaenopsis (x thorntonii) and a Phalaenopsis (Doris). Therefore, strictly speaking, the genetic barrier between these two closely related genera has not been crossed. But, since there are only very few true Phalaenopsis species in cultivation (most are hybrids), the possibility of a true intergeneric hybrid is not to be excluded.

Post-pollination changes in Phalaenopsis orchids

Phalaenopsis are not only outstanding in their beauty, but also unique in their photosynthetic mechanism. As in many other plants, the petals of the orchid flowers serve to attract pollinating insects and protect essential organs. Following pollination, petals will usually undergo senescence (i.e. wilt and disintegrate) because it is metabolically expensive to maintain them.

In many Phalaenopsis species such as P.violacea, the petals and sepals found new uses following pollination. They turn green, become fleshy and apparently photosynthesize.

Growing Phalaenopsis

Phalaenopsis violacea var Borneo

Phalaenopsis are among the most popular orchids sold as potted plants owing to the ease of propagation and flowering under artificial conditions. They were among the first tropical orchids in Victorian collections. Since the advent of the tetrapoloid hybrid Phalaenopsis Doris, they have become extremely easy to grow and flower in the home, as long as some care is taken to provide them with conditions that approximate their native habitats. Their production has become a commercial industry.

In nature, they are typically fond of warm temperatures (20 to 35 °C), but are adaptable to conditions more comfortable for human habitation in temperate zones (15 to 30 °C); at temperatures below 18 °C watering should be reduced to avoid the risk of root rot. Phalaenopsis requires high humidity (60-70%) and low light of 12,000 to 20,000 lux. Flowering is triggered by a night-time drop in temperature of around 5 to 6 degrees over 2 to 4 consecutive weeks, usually in the fall.

Phalaenopsis prefer to be potted in fir bark, which is more free-draining than the sphagnum moss. Keep them in pots with a lot of drainage. One of the most numerous blunders that new growers make is to rot the roots. Overwatering and poor drainage cause the roots to deteriorate, therefore killing the plant. Being careful to water when you feel the soil is dry through and through is the safest thing to do.

Light is quite vital to the well-being of the phalaenopsis orchid. Keep it in indirect light near a southern window. Be sure the sun does not directly reach the leaves, which will cause burning and ugly brown marks. If the leaf feels hot to the touch, move it away immediately! On the other hand, phalaenopsis grown in poor dark areas tend to grow floppy dark green leaves and rarely flower.

Phalaenopsis roots are quite thick, and the green point at the ends signifies that the root is actively growing. It is okay for them to climb out of the pots. Keep the plant fertilized with a 1/4 diluted strength balanced fertilizer three times out of four waterings.

The flower spikes appear from the pockets near the base of each leaf. The first sign is a light green "mitten-like" object that protrudes from the leaf tissue. In about three months, the spike enlongates until it begins to swell fat buds. The buds will thus bloom. Usually you can tell what color the phalaenopsis is by looking at the bud color. After the flowers fade, some people prefer to cut the spike above the highest node (section). This may produce another flower spike or more rarely a keiki (a baby orchid plant that can be planted).

External links

Wikimedia Commons has
media related to:


  • Seon Kim, Clifford W. Morden, Yoneo Sagawa, and Jae -Young Kim (2003). "The Phylogeny of Phalaenopsis Species". Proceedings of NIOC2003, Nagoya, Japan. 
  • Olaf Gruss & Manfred Wolf - Phalaenopsis ; Edition Ulmer, ISBN 3-8001-6551-1 (in German)
  • Eric A. Christenson - Phalaenopsis: a Monograph ; ISBN 0-88192-494-6
  • Harper, Tom (February 2004). Phalaenopsis Culture: Advice for Growing 20 Species. Orchids Magazine 73 (2). Delray Beach, FL: American Orchid Society, 2004.
  • Leroy-Terquem, Gerald and Jean Parisot. 1991. Orchids: Care and Cultivation. London: Cassel Publishers Ltd.
  • Schoser, Gustav. 1993. Orchid Growing Basics. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
  • White, Judy. 1996. Taylor’s Guide to Orchids. Frances Tenenbaum, Series Editor. New York: Houghton-Mifflin.

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