Arno KingThe terete Vanda

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. 

Vanda teres – one of the parents of many famous orchid hybrids

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.

Vanda Miss Joaquim ‘Agnes’, a stunning addition to a warm climate garden

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.

Vanda Miss Joaquim ‘Agnes’ mass planted in the Singapore Botanical Gardens

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.

Vanda Miss Joaquim ‘Agnes’ the national flower of Singapore

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.

Vanda Miss Joaquim ‘Agnes’ flowers most freely when the canes move in the wind

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.

One of the many semi-terete Vanda Hybrids

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.

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12 thoughts on “The terete Vanda

  1. eva aruafu on said:

    Can you tell me the vanda terete which bears yellow and orange flowers

    • Arno King on said:

      Hello Eva

      I’m not sure which one it is. Most of the terete Vandas have pink, mauve and white flowers, so I suspect it might be a semi-terete hybrid. Can you send in a photo for ID?

  2. Sandra Hart on said:

    I have a few Vanda Teretes but they aren’t doing too well,
    I have them in stones and charcoal is that good?

    • Hello Sandra
      Vandas are often grown in stones and charcoal in tropical climates. However this material drains rapidly and holds little nutition. You will need to water your plants regularly during dry periods and also fertilise regularly. Vandas respond to dilute foliar fertilising and there is a wide range of liquid orchid fertilisers available. Remember it is best to fertilise ‘weekly and weakly’. I suggest mixing at 1/2 recommended strength and applying when the tips of the roots are green and actively growing.


  3. Nicholas on said:

    HI Arno King – Where can I get a Terete Vanda Miss Joaquim Agnes
    in Queensland Thanks

    • Trevor O'Hara on said:

      Greetings for Perth WA
      Hi Arno
      Where can I get Vanda Miss Joachim [aka Singapore National Flower]
      anywhere in Australia. I have a special attachment to this orchid
      as I once grew them in Spore many years ago.
      Thank you for your time.

      • Arno King on said:

        Hello Nicholas and Trevor

        I have purchased my plants each year at the Nambour Garden Show at the C and D (Hilders) stand. They bring down plants from Cairns each year.

        I understand your frustration. Once it was a lot easier to find these Vandas, but it is a lot harder now. They are not available from your standard garden centre.

        The other suggestions are to visit orchid society shows in your area or to find plants on the internet.

        Good luck


        • Trevor on said:

          Thank you for your reply Arno.
          Kind regards ~ trevor

  4. Doreen Elliott on said:

    Hi Arno

    My husband and I grow teretes and semi-teretes here in Brisbane.
    I do sell cuttings of Vanda Miss Joaquim and Vanda Poepoe and they are doing just fine here in Brisbane.
    You are more than welcome to come and visit our gardens.

    If you know of anyone interested in purchasing cuttings please tell them to contact me.


  5. Bruno Silavant on said:

    Hi Arno,
    I live in Mauritius , a tropical island in the indian ocean , i have been growing vanda miss Joachim for years with out any problem . But i notice that now all the bottom leaves fall off and sometimes the upper leaves are spotted even if i make new cuttings every year. What should i do. So says it is a problem of mites or may be a deficiency in fertilizer. Is phostrogen fertiliser good for these vandas?

  6. Paula Garcia on said:

    Dear Arno,

    I live in Colombia (1,000 mt altitude). We have only rainy and sunny seasons. Almost three years ago I planted Vanda Terete in my garden and ever since I have not seen them bloom! Please help

    • Bruno Silavant on said:

      they must be in full sun, all year round

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