The strange beauty of lady’s slipper orchids have fascinated folks for centuries. These oddly delicate flowers grow in the wild on five continents, including North America. Native lady’s slippers are found in nearly every state, but it’s the exotic blooms of the Paphiopedilum genus that are usually cultivated as houseplants. Growing orchids in this group is a little harder than easier types like Phalaenopsis or Cattleya, but the striking flowers make it worth the effort. Here’s what you need to know.
Paphiopedilum (say “paf-ee-oh-PED-ih-lum”) is part of the larger Lady’s Slipper Orchid family, which consists of 5 genera. One of these, Cypripedium, includes the native American wildflowers like Showy Lady’s Slipper (C. reginae), Minnesota’s state flower. Paphiopedilums are native to the tropical forests of Southeast Asia. The pouch-shaped flower found in this family is used as an insect trap; as insects fall in and climb back out, they become covered in pollen which they then transfer to others nearby.
In general, slipper orchids prefer about the same temperatures as the average house – think 70s and low 80s during the day, and 60s during the night. Some are hardy down to 40 degrees (this varies), and they’ll tolerate higher temperatures as long as the humidity, water, and air circulation are adequate.
When it comes to light conditions, growing orchids is a lot like growing African Violets. Slipper orchids need bright light, but not direct sun. An east window is ideal, or a west or south window filtered by a sheer curtain. If your orchid is getting too much light, a reddish tinge will start to form on the edges of the leaves. If it’s not getting enough light, it may not bloom. Once you’ve found a place in your home where the orchid seems happy, try to avoid moving it.
Paphioledilums like their potting medium to stay moist, but never soggy. Do not let the plant sit directly in water. You can add humidity by filling a shallow dish with water and pebbles and setting the pot on top. Water once or twice a week by flushing water through the pot and allowing it to drain out.
Potting and Fertilizing
Orchids need quick-draining potting material. Specially-designed orchid mixes made of bark, sphagnum moss, and other loose fillers are ideal. Do not use traditional potting soil or soil from your garden. Ensure the pot has holes for good drainage. Feed with a weak fertilizer once or twice a month. It’s better to underfeed than overfeed.
Slipper orchids usually flower autumn through spring, and the large blooms last for weeks. When the flower finally withers, cut the stalk back to the level of the leaves. Continue to take good care of your Paphiopedilum, and it should bloom again the following year.
Interested in more on growing orchids? Check out Orchids 101: Guide to Orchid Care.