Butterfly orchid is the common name of a few different orchid species, most prominently those of genus Psychopsis, Platanthera and Sarcochilus. For this article though, I’ll be focusing on the Psychopsis orchid.
It is also worth noting that because many orchid species are named after different insects, you should be aware that the butterfly orchid is different from the moth orchid (Phalaenopsis).
And while the latter is the more popular one, butterfly orchids are amazing in their own right because of their beautiful looks.
As you would guess, the plant is named after the fact that it resembles a butterfly. And, it is its orange, yellow, red and pink colors that make it stand out in addition to its unique butterfly shape.
This is thanks to its long, narrow petals which have a rather quite odd history.
It evolved this way in order to trick insects into pollinating it by attracting males to want to mate with its flowers because they look like female insects.
Yes, weird. I know!
But, you do what you got to do to survive and continue your lineage, right?
That said, it isn’t just the butterfly orchid that does this. In fact, it’s a popular “trick” many orchid species use. These include the bee orchid (Ophrys apifera) and fly orchid (Ophrys insectifera) just to name a couple.
It is also where they get their “insect names”.
In any case, the butterfly orchid grows to between 12 and 16 inches high when it matures. It likewise produces blooms at different times of the year wherein its inflorescences can produce many flowers each over the span of a decade.
The plant is native to Central and South Amercia, where it is an epiphyte. But, it has adapted well to indoors.
Butterfly Orchid Plant Care
Butterfly Orchid Light
Bright, indirect light is best for your butterfly orchid. And, they need a lot of it, ideally 10 hours or more per day. That said, they cannot tolerate intense direct sunlight like that in the mid-afternoon or summertime.
Instead, they don’t have a problem with gentler morning or late afternoon sunlight.
Indoors, this makes an east or west facing window a better option compared to a south facing window. Although, with either side, you want to make sure that the plant received enough hours of light.
If not, you may want to supplement with grow lights.
Likewise a south facing window works well if you keep the butterfly orchid at least 3 to 6 feet away. Exactly how far will depend on the angle at which the sun’s ray comes in through the window.
Similarly, you can filter the light by using curtains or other translucent covering.
Outdoors, a bright shaded or partially shaded area is best. If you can find this kind of condition in an area of your garden facing south, that would be perfect since the south receives morning and afternoon sun.
Keeping your butterfly orchid away from direct sunlight is key as its intense rays will scorch its leaves. Similarly, the plant loses its vibrant colors, become paler and produce smaller flowers when it gets too much light.
In contrast, low light conditions makes it grow slower and produce fewer blooms. However, its flowers will be bigger and have more intense colors. That said, too little light can cause it not to bloom at all.
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Butterfly Orchid Temperature & Humidity
Butterfly orchids do well in a wide temperatures range of between 60 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. This is because they can tolerate swings in weather conditions. As such, nighttime temperature drops aren’t too big a problem for them.
So, while daytime temperatures in the highest 10 degrees of that range is ideal, they don’t mind if the nighttime temperature drops to the lowest 10 degrees of the range as well. As long the climate doesn’t drop under 60 degrees they’ll be happy.
Psychopsis orchids are native to the tropical rainforests of Central and South America. As such, they like warm, humid conditions. And, they don’t like the cold. It is also because of these preferences that they’ve adapted well to growing indoors.
However, one thing to keep in mind is these plants are epiphytes. As such, in their native habitat, they grow on/cling onto larger plants and trees. Plus, they get a lot of their nutrients from moisture in the air.
Thus, it is a good idea to give them good air circulation.
Similarly, this makes butterfly orchids prefer humid conditions. Ideally, you want to keep the humidity around them between 75% and 85%. At the least, keep it above 60%.
Unfortunately, this can be a problem with many homes as the average household temperature is between 40% to 50%.
So, in order to encourage the plant to bloom indoors, you need to increase humidity to its desired range. Here, you can use a humidifier, pebble tray or group it together with other plants. In the latter, make sure there’s enough space between plants so air can flow through easily.
Watering Butterfly Orchid
Your butterfly orchid thrives in moist conditions. it likes to receive a good amount of water frequently. That’s because it is native to tropical rainforests and upland forests.
These places receive a moderate to high amounts of rainfall every year. But, they’re designed to dry out fast as well especially upland forests where there is good drainage and the soil doesn’t get saturated. Add to that the fact that Psychopsis orchids are epiphytes.
This allows the plant’s roots to dry out quickly as well.
So, you want to provide your butterfly orchid with conditions where it gets sufficient amount of moisture. But, allow the soil to dry out between waterings.
Since it has delicate roots, the worst thing you can do is leave it in waterlogged soil. Instead, provide it with conditions that allows excess moisture to drain freely out the pot. This allows enough air to get to the roots to enable the plant to grow.
Similarly, the fragility of its roots means you’ll want to flush the soil regularly to reduce any fertilizer buildup that can easily damage its.
That said, never let the plant go dry. Too little water is likewise bad. And, if it experiences this, you’ll see its pseudobulb start to get wrinkled. This is a sure sign that you need to up its water.
Because its pseudobulb is fat, it isn’t always easy to tell if there’s a problem. As such, you’ll often discover moisture problems later than sooner.
As mentioned earlier, the butterfly orchid is an epiphyte in its natural habitat. As such, the best way to mimic this is by using a soilless medium. This makes a combination of bark and Sphagnum moss a popular choice when growing this plant.
Alternatively, if you prefer using a potting mix, you want to make sure it is loose and breathable enough to allow air to circulate freely. This is essential for your butterfly orchid to grow at its best.
If you don’t want to bother about experimenting or trying different media out, pick up some orchid potting mix. They are designed especially for these epiphytes.
Butterfly orchids prefer light, regular feeding as opposed to single larger once a month doses like many houseplants do. As such, you’re better off following a weekly feeding routine here. But, make sure to dilute it to keep the concentration low.
During the spring and summer, you want to apply balanced fertilizer diluted to a quarter dose ever week. If you want to be conservative, you can start at once every two weeks and work your way up.
Regular feeding helps the Psychopsis orchid grow optimally.
The other important thing to keep in mind when feeding the plant is you want to care for its small, delicate roots. To do so,, make sure to flush the medium regularly.
This will get rid of, and keep the fertilizer residue buildup low to none. In doing so, you prevent salt burn from damaging the roots.
Pruning Butterfly Orchid
With Psychopsis orchid you might get tempted to prune its inflorescences once the flowers start to fall or fade. While doing that with other plants encourages growth, it’s not a good idea here.
Your butterfly orchid can flower from the same inflorescence over and over up to as long as 10 years. In fact, each inflorescence can have many flowers. So, once the flowers fall off, take them away.
But, leave the inflorescence be. They don’t need a lot of rest between growths. And, in time, you’ll see a new shoot start to grow.
Butterfly Orchid Transplanting & Repotting
Many gardeners will tell you that it’s a no-no to repot your butterfly orchid. But, I’ve found that not to be the case. In fact, it does well if you repot it when it is struggling or stagnating in growth.
The bottom line here is that don’t be afraid to repot your Psychopsis orchid when needed. This is especially true if you notice the mix starting to go bad, or the plant is experiencing distress.
The sure sign way to know that the plant is doing well is when new shoots start to appear. As long as this is happening , the plant is happy.
That said, in most cases, you’ll only need to repot every 2 to 3 years. Around this time, you’ll likely see its roots start peeking out of the potting medium.
Because of its epiphytic nature, the ideal way to grow your butterfly orchid is by mounting on of wood. If you choose to go this path, you can use sphagnum moss to improve water retention.
On the other hand, many indoor growers like to keep the plant in containers. This can be a plastic one with holes on the sides or bottom or a more traditional pot.
Whichever you choose, make sure there are drainage holes. Just as importantly, use a potting mix that drains moisture well.
You can use perlite, charcoal or bark combined with sphagnum moss. This will give it enough water retention capability alongside excellent draining.