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Growing the Fire Orchids

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Fire Orchids or Renantheras are beautiful and highly collectable plants because of their intense red flowers. In breeding bright red conventional and inter-generic vandaceous hybrids, Renanthera species are used as parent plants. They are ideal orchids used as accent plants in garden shows.

The genus Renanthera was named by Juan Loereiro in 1790 in the Flora Cochinchinensis, and the generic name came from the Latin word “ren” meaning kidney and the Greek word “anthera” or anther. It refers to the kidney-shaped anther of species. Renanthera coccinea Lour was the type species used for this brightly colored genus. Worldwide, the genus has about 15 species, mostly found in China, India, Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia, Borneo, New Guinea and the Philippines. There are four species found in our country, 3 of them are endemic, namely R. monachica, R. philippinensis, and R. storiei, while one species, R. matutina is indigenous.

They are one of the most sought after Philippine orchid species locally and abroad. There are also a lot of red flowered vanda hybrids or intergeneric crosses which has our Renanthera species bloodline.

These plants are usually epiphytes. However, there are occasions that some plants are found to adapt to a terrestrial habit, wherein some plants start their life as a soil growing orchid. Its stem gradually climbs up the trunk of a tree and becomes an epiphyte. Renantheras has 2 basic groups: one group has short stems like that of a Vanda; while another group is vine-like and with elongated stems, which may reach about 5-6 meters in height. Renantheras are closely related to the Vanda and Arachnis orchids.

Most Renantheras have fiery red flowers, usually with shades of orange, thus given the common name fire orchid.

Cultural Requirements:

Light. Matured Fire Orchids grow in 75% light, and needs to be protected from intense heat and light at noontime to prevent leaf scorching.

Potting Techniques. Fire Orchids can be planted in the soil enriched with animal manure and mulched with wood shavings or coconut husks. Some growers plant them in 1 foot diameter clay pots with gravel + charcoal as potting material. Plants are often staked with bamboo or thick wire to keep stem upright. Secure stem on the stake by tying them properly using plastic coated wire . For epiphytic types, they can be mounted on wood branches.

Water. Water plants regularly, specially during summer. Allow wind movement to dry plants between watering and to prevent fungal diseases.

Flowering. Plants flower when mature, well exposed to light, well fertilized and watered. These plants produce fantastic bright red arching inflorescence.

Fertilization. Spray dilute orchid foliar fertilizers with trace elements once a week, usually after watering them in the morning for healthy and vigorous growth.

Pest & Disease Management. Fire orchids can be attacked by weevils or sucking insects like mites, thrips or aphids. For small plant population, weevil beetles can be handpicked in the night as they are nocturnal insects. For serious insect infestations, spray Lannate or Sevin insecticide once and check for reoccurrence. Fungal diseases usually arise during rainy season. Allow proper spacing between plants and ventilation. For fungal diseases, apply fungicides like Captan, Ridomil or Bavistin as a spray on the whole plant and drench on the potting medium. Visit plants regularly, as pest and diseases can wipe out your collection.

Propagation. Conventionally, Fire Orchids could be propagated through top cuttings, similar in propagating Vanda. Cut the top shoot segments with 3 roots using sterile pruning shears. Seal wounds on mother plant and on the top cut segment using fungicide paste. Mount them on clay pots with wire or bamboo stake. The fastest and efficient way of propagation is through seed culture technology in the laboratory. Flowers of selected plants can be pollinated, and their seed capsule are allowed to mature. Renanthera seed capsules mature in about 5 months (but also depends on species and hybrids, including the season). They usually contain thousands of seeds! Using orchid seed technology, the seeds are then sown in the laboratory in a glass vessel with an artificial nutrient medium. The seeds germinate in a month’s time and will become hardy seedlings in a years time. Then, they can be out-planted in the nursery where they mature from 2 to 3 years. The Singaporeans are the ones extensively using Renantheras in their vandaceous orchid breeding program.