Apartment plants

Bletilla striata

Bletilla striata

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Generally, when we think of an orchid, our imagery evokes memories of delicate plants, with very particular requirements, often with aerial roots, which should be cultivated only by true enthusiasts, otherwise all specimens will die quickly; the bletilla genus represents an incredible exception among orchids widespread in cultivation; it is in fact a terrestrial species, with rhizomatous roots, originating from the cool areas of Asia; these characteristics make it a garden plant, which can find space between bulbous plants or in annual or perennial beds. In fact, this orchid has underground roots, which develop thick, fleshy, bulb-shaped tubers, from which enlarged pseudobulbs are produced, and a tuft of thin, coriaceous, ribbon-like leaves with a bright green color; in spring, from the newly developed buds, stand thin dark stems, which bear some large flowers, usually bright pink or yellow. The flowering lasts a few weeks, and the plants that are cultivated in an optimal way, tend to shrink, and therefore from the first single tuber many others are produced, giving rise to a stain of leaves and flowers. During the summer the flowers will have already all withered, but the leaves guarantee a pleasant vegetation spot, even without flowers; they will wither in autumn, when the cold comes, to reappear the following spring.

Bletilla striata

Native to China, it is the most common variety in nurseries; it has light green leaves, which can exceed 25-30 cm in length, and it forms large tufts, which in spring are decorated with beautiful, deep purple flowers, large. This orchid is completely rustic, and can be grown in the garden as a common geophytic plant, such as tulips or hyacinths. There is a variety of bletilla striata with white flower, and also a variety with striated foliage.

Bletilla Ochracea

Also B. ochracea is native to Asia; this orchid is certainly more difficult to find in the nursery than the previous species, it has light yellow flowers. It is not as cold-resistant as bletilla striated, but surely it can find place in the garden in the zones with not excessively cold winters. The flowers are definitely very decorative and showy.

Bletilla formosana

While the two previous species of bletilla they are widespread and easy to find, bletilla formosana is a rare and unusual plant; very similar to the previous species, it has larger flowers and a pale pink color. In nature it grows in the forests of China and Japan and is an endangered species; this fact makes it even more difficult to find it for cultivation in the garden, and the price of tubers certainly increases dramatically.

Grow the bletilla

Bletilla striata and its hybrids are usually grown in the garden; they are terrestrial orchids with deciduous leaves, completely rustic, which can withstand temperatures close to -10 ° C. Cultivation is not difficult, as it is sufficient to place the thick tubers in a very sunny place, with a soil rich in organic, soft and very well drained matter. If the soil of our garden is compact or impoverished, then before planting the tubers let's wash it thoroughly, adding manure, and possibly fresh soil or sand, to improve the dough. Place the tubers at home taking care not to place them too deeply. The bletillas need regular watering, from when we see the first spring shoots, until autumn, when the temperatures fall. We avoid however to leave the soil always soaked with water, but let us not forget to water for many days, especially in summer, when the climate is very hot and sultry, but we avoid watering as soon as the weather becomes cold. Therefore, water regularly, at least every 3-4 days, providing, every 12-15 days, a good fertilizer for flowering plants, using a split dose compared to that recommended on the package. To have so many flowers and a rich vegetation every year, it is important to take care of the leaves even when there are no flowers, watering and fertilizing them until naturally and spontaneously they will begin to turn yellow and dry up when autumn arrives; in this way we will be sure that the bulb-tuber has stored enough nourishment for the following year's flowering. The bletillas do not fear the frost, but it is however good to cover the area above the tubers with mulching material, so that they are slightly protected from the cold, also because usually these bulb tubers tend to develop not completely underground, and therefore are completely exposed to the weather. If in the spring the sprouts sprout when frosts are still probable, we cover the soil with the woven fabric, to prevent the cold from ruining the shoots.
As for the more delicate species and varieties of bletilla, pot cultivation is usually preferred, so that the pots can be stored in a cold greenhouse (or in a sheltered place) between November and March, so that the frost does not ruin the tubers.

Propagate the bletilla

The tubers of this orchid tend to naturally produce other small tubers, with which they produce real colonies, which can also become very large; the fastest and most certain method of propagation of bletillas consists therefore in unearthing the tufts, and in taking some small tubers, which will then be planted individually; in this way we will be sure that the new plant will flower already the year after the transplant, and moreover it will surely produce flowers identical to the one from which we took the tuber. We can also divide the tufts of pseudobulbs, making cuts with a sharp knife, and positioning the portions in individual containers, so that they can sprout. The flowers produce small capsules containing the seeds, which are generally fertile; the sowing of these orchids is however quite complex, also because the germination of the seeds is very reduced over time. Generally, propagation by division of tubers or pseudobulbs is preferred, also because the tiny seedlings that can be obtained from seed can take a few years to produce flowers.

Bletilla striata: Pests and diseases

The main problems encountered with bletillas are often due to problems related to the climate or to the conditions of cultivation; plants grown in full shade tend not to bloom, and to fade quickly; a soil that is always damp and rich in still water tends to cause irreparably irreparable rot of tubers, rhizomes and pseudobulbs; A very dry climate causes the rapid decay of the whole plant, which can also die if the drought is long and the climate is very hot. Throughout the spring the enemy number one of the bletilla is the aphid, which lurks on the buds and buds, ruining them conspicuously and covering them with honeydew; they are eradicated using special insecticides.