Nowadays, you can see orchids on Instagram, in supermarkets, in florist shops, and pretty much anywhere, and we couldn’t be happier because these flowering ornamentals are truly special. All orchids are beautiful, but throughout this article, we are going to focus on Boat Orchids because they deserve all the attention.
The peculiar shape of the Cymbidium bloom, commonly referred to as the boat orchid, is worth all the money, It comes along with a bonus of a superb colour palette. So, if you are the proud owner of a Cymbidium a.k.a. boat orchid, or you are just curious about this plant, this article will tell you all you need to know about these fascinating exotic ornamentals.
Cymbidium is a genus of the orchid family Orchidaceae, containing about 55 species of absolutely stunning flowering plants. The flowers from this genus go by the common name boat orchid. They are native to several regions of Asia and Australia, growing mostly on the surface of other plants, on rocks, and on land.
Are you excited to find out more about Boat orchids and meet some of these buddies? Keep reading our guide for everything that you need to know about them!
About Boat Orchid
- There are many gorgeous species of boat orchids that you can choose from. These include C. aloifolium, C. bicolor, C. tracyanum, C. dayanum, C. elegans, C. ensifolium, C. erythraeum, C. floribundum, C. hartinahianum, and C. iridioides.
- Besides the common and less common species mentioned above, boat orchids also enchant our eyes with various cultivars. The most spectacular one of them is Cymbidium ‘Magic Chocolate’.
- The C. lowianum species and the C. Sarah Jean gx ‘Ice Cascade’ hybrid have gained the prestigious Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.
- As mentioned above, there are many different types of Cymbidium orchids, some have large flowers, while others are more delicate. If you have a large and spacious windowsill, you should definitely try your hand at growing a boat orchid that produces large blooms. If, however, you don’t have a lot of room for a new plant, the good news is you can opt for a mini Cymbidium, such as the C. Golden Elf variety.
- Cymbidium orchids are among the most popular orchids worldwide today. Prized for their decorative hypnotic flower spikes, boat orchids are great especially for corsages or as cut flowers in the spring.
- The flowers of these plants are pretty common in cosmetic products. You can find them in skin creams, perfumes, or anti-ageing cosmetics.
- Cymbidium plants will look fantastic near other attractive species of plants. The most suitable companions for them are Lycaste hybrids, other Orchid species, Pleione, Zygopetalum, and other plants with similar growing requirements.
- According to the Toronto Botanical Gardens, Cymbidium, a.k.a boat orchids contain quinone, a substance that can cause rashes when it comes into contact with skin. This makes Cymbidium plants somewhat poisonous to humans and animals, and it is recommended to wear gloves whenever you’re handling these plants. For safety purposes, keep these plants out of your kids’ and pets’ reach.
- All Orchid species, including Cymbidium (despite their moderate toxicity), have been playing an important part in traditional medicine for a long time. Cymbidium flowers are used by some people as ingredients to make herbal teas and drinks.
- Cymbidium blooms are considered delicacies in Bhutan, where they are referred to as ‘olachotho’. The inflorescences of boat orchids can be found in local markets in late summer-early autumn.
Boat Orchid Features: An Overview
- Cymbidiums are evergreen herbaceous flowering plants. Depending on the species or variety, these exotic flowering ornamentals can grow as tall as 2 feet (0.6 m).
- Most Cymbidium species have stems that are modified as pseudobulbs, while others feature thin stems. Once the leaf has withered, the leaf base remains intact, forming a sheath around the pseudobulb.
- Some boat orchids may be leafless. However, when the foliage is present, these plants have between 3 to 12 leaves arranged in two ranks.
- Boat orchids will usually bloom from mid-autumn to mid-spring. During this period, they produce some of the most spectacular flowers on an unbranched flowering stem which usually comes from the base of the pseudobulb.
- The petals and sepals of boat orchids are typically thin and fleshy, more or less similar to each other. The labellum looks significantly different from the other two flower components, having three lobes that curve downwards.
- Their flowers can exhibit various shades of white, pink, yellow, burgundy, green, brown, or purple. Most often, the blossoms come in amazing colour mixes and patterns.
- After pollination, Boat orchids might produce glabrous capsules that contain numerous light-coloured seeds.
Growing Boat Orchid
Boat orchids are wonderful plants to have around. Although their spectacular appearance can sometimes make them seem difficult to grow, the truth is orchids can grow just fine with little to no effort on your part. In general, orchids thrive when grown indoors, in temperate regions. This means that you can grow orchids in containers outside during springs and summers and bring them inside during the cold winter months. But because they come from tropical and subtropical areas, you will have to bring them inside when the first threat of frost occurs.
When it comes to lighting conditions, boat orchids will thrive when they receive lots of dappled light. If you are growing your plants in an outdoor setting, you should protect them from any direct sunlight exposure, as it will easily burn them. The best thing you can do would be to place your boat orchids in a spot where they will experience a few hours of morning sunlight and some shade in the afternoon. In indoor settings, grow your boat orchids near an east- or southeast-facing window for optimal results.
Unlike some other popular orchids, Cymbidium species are slightly more tolerant to cold temperatures. As a matter of fact, large boat orchid varieties require an extended period of cold, with temperatures between 50 and 60 °F (10-15 °C), to bloom profusely. Still, these plants are winter-hardy only in the USDA zones 10 to 12. They usually do well in daytime temperatures of 75 to 85 °F (24-29 °C) and 45 to 55 °F (7-12 °C) at night.
- LIGHT: If your orchids are outdoors, make sure they are not in direct sunlight, as this can cause burning on the plant. A few hours of morning sunlight paired with shady afternoons should be perfect.
- SOIL: Cymbidiums are semi-terrestrial orchids. They naturally grow in loamy humus, sending thin roots into the soil.
- WATER: Water these plants frequently during the growing season (i.e., the spring, summer, and fall). During the winter bloom, reduce watering. However, don't let the plant completely dry out.
- TALL: The Cymbidium orchid can reach around two feet in height and has beautiful thin, long leaves.
- BLOOM PERIOD: Blooms from mid-autumn to mid-spring.
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Planting Boat Orchid
The most attractive thing about orchids is, of course, their beautiful blooms. When you purchase a new orchid, you can certainly enjoy its blooms for a few months and you don’t really have to do anything except water it once in a while. Once your orchid’s blooming period has ended, it would be wise to repot it in a larger container or, if you live in a tropical or subtropical region, you can plant it outdoors directly in the ground.
The majority of boat orchids species are semi-terrestrial. This means that they grow naturally in loamy humus, where they can easily send their thin roots into the soil. Make sure you plant your boat orchids in a loose, well-draining potting mix that is rich in organic matter and nutrients. We recommend you use a combination of perlite, peat moss, fir bark, or other loose organic material. If you cannot make this mixture at home, you can just look for a commercial paphiopedilum orchid mix.
Boat orchids will benefit from regular fertilizing during their active growing season. Feed your plants with a weak orchid fertilizer twice every month. You should avoid fertilizers that are high in nitrogen since they will cause rapid foliage growth and fewer blossoms than usual. Another great way to fertilize your Boat orchids is by scattering slow-release pellets in their soil at the beginning of the season.
If your Boat orchids seem to grow like crazy, you can repot them once every year in containers that are one size larger than the ones they already have. A common indicator that these plants need repotting is none other than overcrowded roots, so you might want to keep an eye out for this. You can learn more about choosing the best pots for your orchids by reading our Best Orchid Pots Review.
Watering Boat Orchid
During their active growing period, from spring through autumn, boat orchids need as much water as you can give them. But be careful! Although these plants demand frequent watering, they are also pretty sensitive to over-watering and waterlogging. If you want to avoid any unpleasant issues that might happen due to overwatering, make sure you spoil your boat orchids with drinks only when the first two inches (5 cm) of soil has dried out entirely.
In spring, most boat orchids will do just fine if you water them twice a week, especially on hot days. In winter, these beauties will need less water than in the other seasons. This does not mean that you should allow their soil to completely dry out. Instead, you will have to water your Boat orchids as often as needed to maintain their growing mediums slightly damp to the touch. Keep in mind that these plants will appreciate the purest water you can give them. If tap water is particularly hard in your area, you can use mineral water or rainwater instead. Your boat orchids will be grateful for it, as they are quite sensitive to tap water.
Humidity-wise, Boat orchids can tolerate most levels except for those particularly dry climates. As a rule, these plants will perform well in environments with humidity levels between 40% and 60%. You can maintain the ideal levels by placing their pots on trays filled with pebbles and water.
Propagating Boat Orchid
You don’t need to be a gardening expert to propagate cymbidium. The process is quite easy and straightforward, and you should definitely try it out if you have the opportunity. Propagation is a great inexpensive way to make more plants without spending any extra money along the way. And, of course, you can also have some fun in the process, so let’s get started!
When it comes to boat orchids, the easiest method of propagation is division. The perfect time to divide these plants is usually in spring when their blooming period has ended. You can also do this while repotting them to save some time and energy for yourself.
As mentioned above, the propagation process is super simple. Firstly, if you are not doing this while repotting your orchids, you will have to dig them out from their growing medium. Secondly, you can divide their roots into two or three sections, but make sure each has at least three pseudobulbs. Once you have the sections, you can replant them absolutely wherever you want and care for them as for the first plants. That’s basically all the effort!
Can you propagate Cymbidium orchids from seed? Technically yes, but it is quite difficult and time consuming. Orchid seeds are quite different from other plants’ seeds as they do not contain nutritional storage tissue. This means that they will only grow in places that are perfect for them. In the wild, orchid seeds require a symbiotic fungus to start the growing process. So replicating this process at home is tricky, so it’s best to stick to division.
Boat Orchid Common Issues
Boat orchids should resist most pest infestations and fungal diseases. However, some intruders like scale, aphids, and others may bother your plants once in a while. When this happens, you can wash the intruders off, and you can also treat the plants with a suitable insecticide according to the label instructions, if necessary.
Other common issues that boat orchid growers encounter include:
Root rot: As mentioned above, orchids can be sensitive to overwatering, which in time, can trigger root rot. To avoid this issue, make sure that your plants don’t get overlogged and don’t sit in water for too long. The first symptoms of root rot include stunted growth, yellowing leaves, and a change in the way the roots smell and look. Roots affected by root rot can turn brown, become mushy, and smell bad. The best way to check for root rot is by taking the plant out of its container and inspecting its roots. If the roots are only partially damaged you may still save the plant by removing the unhealthy parts and repotting your plant in a new container with fresh soil.
Lack of flowers: The number one reason why orchids refuse to produce flowers is lack of light. Most orchids, including Cymbidium need plenty of natural light, but not direct light, to bloom. If providing your orchid with more natural light isn’t possible, consider investing in some indoor grow lights. Another common issue that can prevent your orchids from blooming is an insufficient dormancy period. Cymbidium orchids need reduced temperatures over the autumn and winter months in order to resume their blooming.
Short-lived flowers: If the orchids are close to room heaters, they might suffer due to low humidity levels. Misting the flowers is not recommended, as this might trigger other issues such as Botrytis. So, the best course of action is to place the plant on a pebble trey that is filled with water to increase the humidity levels around your plants.
Flower loss: An orchid may lose its flowers for many different reasons including prolonged drought, too high or too low temperatures, or different pests and diseases. For orchids that are in bloom try to keep the bark evenly moist. If you can rule out temperature fluctuations and a lack of water, check for mites, aphids, or mealybugs.
Without a doubt, Cymbidium plants a.k.a. boat orchids are a delight and a must-have for every gardener out there. These plants are great companions for orchid-lovers, but also for novice growers that want to become more familiar with exotic plants. And there is no better option! Being so easy to grow and care for, boat orchids will surely meet all your expectations and will reward you with beautiful blooms for several months each year.
Are you growing Cymbidium a.k.a boat orchids? Share your experience in the comments!