Terete Vandas are a group of orchids renowned for their ease of culture in tropical and warm subtropical gardens. Rather than needing coddling in protected shade houses, these orchids thrive in the full summer sun with plenty of air circulation and do particularly well where warm, wet, humid summers are the norm.
I’ve just got back from the annual Queensland Garden Expo at Nambour. Of course I bought more plants than I budgeted on, but most are in the ground, and with more rain and a little bit of care this will be money well invested. This year I purchased many more terete Vanda plants. Previous purchases have done particularly well in a sheltered, sunny north-eastern facing location in my garden.
Plants flower all year round however I generally get a large flush of flowers over winter and spring months each year. The flowers are large and long lasting and don’t seem to get as readily spotted by rain as many other orchid flowers. Plants are in full flower now. This always seems strange to me – plants I associate with tropical climes at there best at the coldest time of the year.
It pays to keep a look for damage by dendrobium beetle, the only serious pest of these plants. Chewed flower and buds are an indication of their presence. Look out for a small orange and black beetle. Place a hand or container under where they are active. When disturbed they drop down. With practice you can readily catch and destroy them. I find them an infrequent problem – most frequently occurring in spring and early summer.
I am growing my plants on 1.2 m (4 foot) high, 50 by 25mm (2 by 1 inch) hardwood stakes. The stakes are cheap and readily available at my local produce store and seem to last a good decade or so in the garden. I place them in groups at about 600 mm (2 feet) apart. They make for strange ‘art installations’ in the garden. It is a simple matter to hammer a few stakes in the ground. Surround the stakes with a deep layer of bark mulch and then bury the base of the orchid stem in the mulch and tie the orchid firmly to the stake.
Terete Vandas like to climb. Terete refers to the 50 – 70mm pencil–like leaves which grow alternately up the stems. Plants flower best when the stems grow above the support and start to wave in the wind, then the plant seems to stop focusing on climbing upwards, and instead starts to produce racemes of flowers from each node.
I spend a few weeks each year working in Singapore, where I am based in the world famous Singapore Botanic Gardens. Vanda ‘Miss Joaquim’, the most famous of the terete Vandas is the national flower of Singapore and much planted in the gardens and around Singapore. The plantings in Singapore have been an inspiration to me and certainly are a great attraction to tourists.
Terete Vandas used to be a lot more commonly planted in Queensland. I can remember seeing them planted in many inner city gardens around Brisbane. Sadly these gardens have been subdivided or ‘landscaped’ and many of the garden treasures have been deposited at the tip. You can still find Vandas in many north Queensland gardens, but they are also less common than they once used to be.
Plants require little maintenance, but flourish and flower profusely with some added care. This includes watering during dry periods, and providing regular dilute fertilising over the warmer months when the temperature is between 25 and 32 degrees. Diluted manures and organic fertilisers have traditionally been used on these orchids with great success. I also use seaweed, particularly in autumn and winter to boost the plants’ resistance to cold. Shelter from cold, dry winter and spring winds is also important.
There are many terete Vandas. Technically, these plants now belong to the genus Papilanthe, however this name is seldom used by gardeners. The most readily available plant is P. Miss Joaquim ‘Agnes’. It was a natural hybrid of Papilanthe hookeriana and P. teres, which was found in the garden of Miss Agnes Joaquim in 1893. This orchid is said to have been the catalyst for the multimillion dollar Asian orchid industry. Another favourite is P. ‘Poepoe’ Diana’ (P. teres ‘Alba’ x P. cooperi) which is a free flowering pure white orchid. The popular 1951 remake, Papilanthe Miss Joaquim ‘Rosemarie’ (P. teres ‘Alba’ x hookeriana), by C A Chevalier of Java is also frequently grown. Papilanthe ‘Amy’ (P. tricuspidata x P. hookeriana) is another popular hybrid. There are a few other terete hybrids and species around, but you will have to search to find them.
Another group of related plants are the semi-terete Vandas. These are crosses between the standard strap leaved Vandas and the terete Vandas. These plants seem to need a little more shade and protection but also make great garden plants in warm climates.
All these orchids are readily grown from cuttings. Lengths of 400mm (1 and ¼ feet) or more taken over the warmer months establish rapidly. Keep a look out, you may find a friend who has some established plants that need a pruning and tidying.
There are few other orchids which provide such a rewarding show of flowers for a minimum of time and care. These plants will certainly add a touch of the exotic to any warm climate garden.