Habenaria radiata (egret plant)-- can I salvage this?

tuesdayschild(z10 CA, Sunset24)July 4, 2005

Hi folks,

I bought, for the 5th time, 2 egret flowers (Habenaria radiata) in March from Van Bourgondien because my mother is enchanted with the picture of them in the catalog. None of the ones I gave her ever even sprouted. (4 years worth of attempts, indoors/outdoors/potted/ground--she tried it all.) This time, I'm doing the sprouting, potting, etc. and frankly my success is only looking marginally better. It is now July and both of these things are 1 inch tall with only 3 leaves. (The chocolate cosmos that I bought at the same time are all in their 2nd bloom).

OK, I'll confess that I had no idea when I bought them that they were bog plants (other than the instructions that said they wanted a substantial peat percentage in the potting soil). I figured out "bog", as in "very wet" only about two weeks ago and started soaking the bejeebers out of the little guys. So far no response at all.

Can anyone tell me what I ought to be doing to keep these guys happy so Mom can get her pretty white birds? Are we talking soaking wet all the time here? Or are we talking soaking with dryouts to "gently moist" like begonias? Van B says "full sun" -- I'm dubious. The one in full sun is not as happy looking as the one that is in afternoon shade (though both are still a piddly little one inch tall with three leaves-- well 2.5 leaves for the one in full sun-- it lost half a leaf, which turned brown and dropped the outer half: surely a cry for help).

Both plants are in pots -- one is a one gallon pot in an insulating cachepot (ceramic filled with dirt around the interior terracotta pot), this is the one in full sun. The other is in a 2.5 gallon porcelain dish about 1.5' x 8" tall. It is partially shaded by other pots and a banana tree leaf.

Am I expecting too much from the first year? Or should I be doing something else? How much water? How wet? Do these need a gravel/water base below the pot like some of my orchids? Yeek. Help!

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Hi, Tuesdays Child. Well, you had to pick a really tough orchid it seems. I can't even grow the easy ones. But I found this info on the web that may give you some ideas.

"Or Crane Orchid. Because it really does look like the Japanese white
crane, a symbol of health & long life & fortune, & of Japan Airlines. Also
it lives in bogs where cranes nest. But in "captivity" it doesn't like to
be as wet as in the wild, & its bogs dry out in seasonally, so duplicating
it's wet then dry natural habitat can be a pain. Seeds almost never
germinate for amateurs as they're triggered by a specific bog bacteria in
their natural environment, but it should produce offsets (I think) as
the old pseudobulb wears out, so will perepetuate itself.

> It is also known taxonomically as pecteilis
> radiata.
> > Do any of you have experience growing these? I've found only two references
> to culture on the web. One grower reported limited success growing in
> sphagnum. Another site said part to full sun in well-drained, acidic soil
> kept moist until after flowering is completed and the plants go dormant. Any
> other suggestions for success?
> > Except for Bletilla striata, I grow all my orchids in pots and in the
> winter, indoors.

On the west coast these reputedly have naturalized in some peoples' yards,
but won't spread beyond the initial plantings because seeds don't
germinate. The only terrestrial orchid I grow so far is a comparatively
easy pleione (in full bloom right now; your pecteilis will likely be a
summer bloomer), so am reluctant to suggest much, as you would already
know more than I know, since you do grow other kinds of orchids & didn't
restrict yourself to such an easy one. But I think the reason you're
getting contradictory information is because terrestrial orchids do in
fact sometimes grow in moss rather than in the ground, so that that
they're encountered in the wild growing in moss atop rocks or even up in
trees just like epiphytes. Soil is best (with one-third orchid bark) but
with the tops of the bulb sticking above the surface of the soil then
finish "burying" it with a protectie layer ofliving moss, not with dead

I think the only thing special about your pecteilis's needs will be its
boggy spring & summer, dry autumn & winter cycle -- when it wants water
it'll die the instant it goes without, & when it doesn't want water it'll
rot the instant it gets watered by accident, so it's a tough balance. It
sounds bassackwards for Japanese weather patterns but the bogs are caused
by snowmelting off mountains rather than by rainfall & they do dry out in
winter rather than summer, when the mountain snows are no longer melting

When leaves first appear on P. sagarikii they form a funnel to catch
rainwater, but in "captivity" they don't actually like to have any
stagnant water in those leaves, so maybe P. striata will be the same &
when watering it you'll need to take care not to fill it with water. I
presume you already tried googling for info. I just now gave google a try
& found nothing better than this page:
which is minimal but does give seasonal temperatures, & notes that living
sphagnum is preferred over the pseudobulb's surface; so that might be
enough to get you started right.

Personally I would never try this orchid cuz I'm cowardly about
houseplants & I want everything to fit in the yard so that Nature helps me
out & plants aren't completely reliant on me alone. When I was researching
terrestrial orchids, I reluctantly decided I would probably fail with any
orchid except pleine & bletilla, because they are the ones best apt to
naturalize outdoors & end up taking care of themselves (pecteilis might do
so if one is willing to cover them with a waterproof tent in winter). If I
may judge it correctly from its photograph, the one you've just gotten has
got to be one of the most charming orchids of all, so intensely bird-like.
Best of luck with it, & if you can report back with future success (or
tragic failure) I'd love to have your notes on it, maybe I'll even get
daring if you find it easier than I suspect.

***Good luck*** It looks like you are going to need it. However, I am the kind of person who, when someone says I'll not be able to do it, I'll try it anyway!

Keep us posted on your progress. It is indeed a beautiful plant.


    Bookmark   July 4, 2005 at 9:59AM
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I had these in my bog a few years ago. The plants themselves are very small, the leaves on my plants (that bloomed once) were not more than 2", and I think there were 2 on each of the plants.

The flowers were perhaps no more than 1-1 1/2" across on stems 3-4". The plants lingered in the bog for a year or two after that first year they bloomed but went downhill and never bloomed again. I should try Peteilis again, but while they are apparently not difficult to propagate, they are certainly not easy to maintain.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2005 at 10:46PM
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Here's how I do it. Plant the tubers when the weather gets warm (around April). They should only planted maybe 1" deep. The mix should be half clean quartz sand with NO lime and the other half sphagnum peat. Choose a fairly large container relative to the tiny bulbs. Yes, they like lots of moisture in summer, even to the point of being wet, but don't overdo it. Refrain from using straight tap water with chlorine on these. They also like to be in the sun and warm while in growth. They should flower around mid-summer (mine haven't spiked yet). In the fall when the leaves die down remove them from the growing container. Clean the little bulbs carefully and completely. Do not attempt to save the roots, they only last one season. Dry the bulbs only to the touch, not actually dry. Place them with sightly damp vermiculite in a good freezer bag and put them in the frig (NOT the freezer!) for the winter. It is important to use good quality freezer bags that are completely sealed. Check them from time to time to see they aren't drying out. In spring repeat the cycle. In time you can even get them to increase in size and number. PF

    Bookmark   July 9, 2005 at 10:00AM
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August 8, 2008
I have two Egret plants growing with four leaves. They get 10 hours of light-grow lights two tube 4" long. I use RAINWATER only. I am waiting for the blooms to come-on.
Good Luck to you.
Steps to Success with the Egret Flower
Egret FlowerHabenaria radiata, Egret Flower, is a hardy terrestrial orchid (meaning that it grows in the ground) that is native to Japan.
It is often grown by orchid enthusiasts in containers instead of the ground, but is well suited to being planted in the ground.
When the bulb arrives it will be packed in a bag or box filled with coco-fiber. Within the coco-fiber you will find small bundles of damp paper towels. Wrapped inside the paper towels are small bulbs about the size of a peanut. These are the Egret Flower Bulbs. It is important that these small bulbs not dry out before they are planted.
The bulbs should be planted in spring in a bright sunny location.
Amend the soil with plenty of well-rotted compost and improve drainage by adding small gravel, small sized pumice, or perlite.
Plant your bulbs no more than one inch deep.
The Egret Flower needs lots of moisture throughout the spring and summer. It even thrives in soils that are constantly saturated with water as long as the water is not stagnant (improving drainage with gravel will help water move through the soil and avoid stagnation). This moisture will simulate Asia's monsoon season, which stimulates the plant to produce leaves and flowers.
The plant requires a dormant period in winter and does not require water. If the plant is too moist during its dormancy it can easily rot.
The plant is hardy to Zone 5, but if you live in a place where you have difficulty controlling moisture levels in the soil in winter consider digging the plant and bringing it inside. Use the following technique:
After the last flower has faded begin withholding water to slowly dry it out (never allow it to become "bone-dry").
· When the leaves begin to yellow and die (in fall) stop watering completely.
· Dig up the tiny peanut-sized bulbs and bring them inside.
· Place them in plastic zipper-type storage bags in barely moist vermiculite.
· Store these bags in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator.
· Check the vermiculite once a month to be sure it isn't too wet or too dry.
· Replant the bulbs in the garden next spring.
If you choose to leave your plants outdoors during the winter use a
lightweight mulch that will protect it from cold temperatures but will
not hold excess water on the plant. Chopped leaves, hay, or straw are good choices.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2008 at 4:36PM
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I think maybe you should try buying from some place different. I order 2 bulbs from Spring Hill. I planted in a smaller pot at the end of August, and one just bloomed the other day. All I did was plant in Miracle Grow Moisture Control Potting Soil. And I water with water I keep in a jug to remove chlorine. The pot is on my kitchen window sill, and it doesn't get much sun. I want to try one outside next year, That way I can still have one if it doesn't work out. If you have any luck you will be thrilled, cause the are adorable.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2009 at 6:39PM
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