A valentine that's outside the box (of chocolates)

Provided to the MPT

This is the month when Cupid shoots arrows. He’s become more egalitarian over the years. Nowadays, his targets may include relatives, friends, even a boss, in addition to lovers. That explains why so much money is spent on the accoutrements of Valentines Day.

Red and pink roses fill flower shops and supermarkets, heart-shaped boxes of candy are stacked on shelves, all no-fail Valentine’s homages. But roses fade and chocolates fatten.

Consider thinking outside the box this year. The white Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis) you see in the photograph is my pick for the most enduring and endearing tribute any loved (or admired) one could be given. Sprays of blossoms on this sturdy plant can last from one to three months. Properly cared for, they’ll re-bloom, reminding the recipient of your affections, for years to come. 

Revered, since Victorian times, as the easiest orchid to grow and bloom, the recent advent of tetraploid hybrids has only improved the species and resulted in mass production by the nursery industry. You’ll have no problem finding one of these spectacular plants. 

Flowers come in a variety of colors. White, rich rosy pink or a variegated bloomer is the best choice for this holiday. You’ll likely need to give your receiver a tutorial on care. As a houseplant, this orchid needs to be in an environment that exceeds 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Near an east-facing window is the perfect spot where it gets morning light, but not scorching sunshine. These epiphytes anchor themselves in the shady pockets where limbs intersect with larger limbs or tree trunks; their native habitat being India, China, and southeast Asia all the way down to northern Australia. Plants will also do well near a south or west facing window, but must be kept out of direct light. Foliage scorches easily and too much light retards flowers.

Watering is important. The most successful collection of repeat bloomers I know belongs to Didi Robles in Washington Park. Being a native of the Philippines, Didi may possess a kind of magic that makes the plants instinctively cooperative and generous, still her system is simple. She clusters a number of plants, in plastic pots filled with commercially available orchid bark, next to large windows facing the Cascade Range (east). Every other week she fills the sink with water and lets the pots soak over night. Every other week she mists them heavily using a plastic spray bottle filled with tap water. That’s it. Anita ignores all the orchid fertilizers and complex instructions that border on horticultural voodoo. Effectively: less is more, simple is better. Regular but not excessive water, house temperature, and eastern light are the secret.

When the flowers finally fade, cut the stem back to just above one of the nodes on the old stem or, likely better but more drastic, cut the stem back completely. When new blossom spikes start to emerge, you’ll see a pale green bud along the old stem or at the base of the broad, leathery, green leaves. That bud will elongate over a period of about three months, then plump buds will begin to swell and your patience will be rewarded. A new crop of blossoms will open along the wand-like stem of the Moth Orchid. The common name, I theorize, is due to the fact that the flowers look like colonies of moths swarming the green stem.

Make the most of this holiday with a long lasting Phalaenopsis, Don’t forget a card, expressing sincere sentiments (of whatever intensity). A red or pink ribbon on the pot or the addition of a glittered heart will turn this orchid into a symbol of Valentine affection that would please Cupid himself.