Paphiopedilum, or Asian lady slipper is one of the showiest orchids. This is a genus of sympodial, epiphytic, lithophytic or terrestrial orchids, growing in Asia. There also European lady slippers – Cypripedium (wild lady slipper orchid also belonging to this genus) and American lady slippers – Phragmipedium (well known Phragmipedium kovachii and Phragmipedium caudatum are of these genus), but this article is about Paphiopedilum genus, as Cypripedium lady slippers are not suitable for indoor cultivation, and Phragmipedium has different growing conditions. So, in this article, you will learn about Paphiopedilum lady slipper orchid care.
Paphiopedilum orchids have quite different from other orchids flower structure. A lip of lady slipper flower is slipper-shaped, which is needed for effective pollination – this lip is some sort of trap, where an insect is trapped until it takes pollinia from a plant or fertilizes it if it already bears one. Also, lady slippers’ flowers have two fused lower sepals. Many Paphiopedilum lady slippers also have lovely foliage with beautiful patterns of white, light green and dark green, thus many of them are quite decorative even without flowers.
Paphiopedilum is a complex genus and could be divided into different sections, or subgenera with different growth habits and growing conditions, they also differ in their morphology. There are subgenera Paphiopedilum, Parvisepalum, Brachypetalum, Polyantha, Sigmatopetalum and Cochlopetalum. Also, it’s known some hybrids – borh intra- and intersubgeneric which possess features of different subgenera, and some efforts to create hybrid of different genera (most often between Paphiopedilum and Phragmipedium) have been done, but without results.
Paphiopedilum subgenus Paphiopedilum
Paphiopedilum subgenus Paphiopedilum is most often used in lady slipper hybridization. They are characterized by green leaves without a pattern, single big flowers with lovely patterns. The most common lady slipper orchids for sale at shops are so-called “American hybrids” (or complex hybrids) of Paphiopedilum subgenus. There are also some very beautiful lady slipper species of subgenus Paphiopedilum. Paphiopedilum fairrieanum has lovely green flowers (that’s why sometimes they are called green lady slipper orchids). Paphiopedilum exul has flowers of bright yellow. Paphiopedilum insigne is another well-known species of this subgenus.
What’s about subgenus Paphiopedilum care? They are mostly intermediate to cool orchids which require cool winter rest to establish flower buds, they are best grown in a substrate which contains medium bark, sphagnum, some peat moss, lava rocks, cocoa chips and some perlite. When actively growing, these lady slippers require regular watering and feeding with balanced fertilizers (organic ones suit well), at dormancy – cool temperatures and moderate watering. Light levels should be moderate. Despite the fact that they are most often sold at shops, these Paphiopedilums are not quite suitable for a windowsill, because of their specific temperature regimen.
Orchids of Parvisepalum subgenus are very lovely miniature to medium-sized plants with leaves, colored in pattern of dark and light green. The flowers of this subgenus are marvelous – for instance, Paphiopedilum armeniacum has bright-yellow flowers (Paphiopedilum armeniacum’s species name comes from Latin for apricot – its flowers resemble this shade). Paphiopedilum armeniacum is sometimes called a golden slipper orchid or yellow lady slipper orchid. Paphiopedilum micranthum has spectacular pink flowers with a large lip, so these orchids are sometimes called pink lady slippers. Paphiopedilum subgenus Parvisepalum lady slipper orchid care is quite simple – they are intermediate to warm orchids. A substrate for them should be the same as for Paphiopedilum subgenus. Regular watering and feeding should be provided. Light levels should be low – they prefer partial shade.
Paphiopedilum subgenus Brachypetalum contains miniature lady slippers with colorful leaves and flowers with characteristic pattern – dark spot on light flowers, some of them fairly fragrant, which is rare within lady slipper orchids. Paphiopedilum concolor is one of the most widely known representatives of this genus. It has a rosette of mottled leaves (dark green spots on light green) and beautiful white flowers with purple spots on. They are terrestrial orchids and need well-drained substrate with some medium bark, cocoa chips, sphagnum, peat moss, and limestone, as they are so called calcicolous Paphiopedilums. They are intermediate to warm, tolerate low light and bloom in summer.
Paphiopedilum subgenus Polyantha contains one of the most exotic and beautiful lady slippers. They are multiflowered (Polyantha means many flowers in Latin) medium sized lady slipper orchids with solid green leaves and spectacular flowers. Paphiopedilums of the subgenus Polyantha are colorful, their petals are long and twisted (such as Paphiopedilum rothschildianum). They need well-drained substrates with more bark and fewer components with high water capacity, as they are epiphytic, and more light. Temperature conditions for them should be warm to hot.
Paphiopedilum subgenus Sigmatopetalum is also widely known in cultivation. “Maudiae type” hybrids are very popular representatives of this subgenus. Paphiopedilum Maudiae is a hybrid between Paphiopedilum callosum and Paphiopedilum lawrenceanum. They have bright mottled leaves with a checkerboard pattern of white and green, big showy flowers of different colors – with almost black (actually dark purple) in some Maudiae type hybrids. They are rather easy to grow indoor plants. They are intermediate to warm orchids with no profound dormancy, and they need low to medium light, regular watering and feeding.
Paphiopedilum subgenus Cochlopetalum are lady slippers with green leaves and medium flowers, which open one by one in remontant fashion. One of the very popular representatives of this subgenus is Pinocchio hybrid descended from Paphiopedilum glaucophyllum and Paphiopedilum primulinum. These orchids are warm, rather easy to grow and ready to flower at any time.
What’s about repotting of lady slipper orchids? You should consider two things. The first is to choose a right substrate – for instance, calcicolous lithophytic and terrestrial Paphiopedilums need limestone in their substrate, but epiphytic Paphopedilums need better-drained substrates than terrestrial ones. The second thing is that Paphiopedilums have very delicate hairy roots, which are very easy to damage. So if you don’t need to repot them, it’s better not to do so. You have to repot them only if a substrate has decomposed and you have to refresh it, if roots are damaged by rotting, or if your plant has overgrown the pot.