Bulbophyllum Orchid Care

The Bulbophyllum orchid genus is the largest in the orchid family, with over 1800 species. It's the third largest genus of plants of any kind. Species of this genus are distributed worldwide, with the greatest diversity in Papua New Guinea, where they are thought to have originated.
Bulbophyllum lobbii
Bulb. lobbii
These sympodial plants have conspicuous pseudobulbs with a single, folded leaf at the top. They are epiphytic and lithophytic. Flower stems emerge from the base of the pseudobulb, and have a mobile labellum ("lip") that can rock back and forth.

Most species are "fragrant" orchids, by which I mean that they're pungent: many smell like rotting carcasses or dung, as they are pollinated by flies. The smell might not be pleasant, but it is a good conversation-starter! Fortunately, there are plenty of species that don't stink, also.

Many species form clusters of flowers arranged in a semicircular pattern; this makes them look totally different from the species that emphasize a single, large flower! Other species arrange their flowers sequentially along the stem.

I've had the best results growing these in net pots, plastic baskets that allow a lot of air to the roots. They have to be repotted frequently, as they will quickly start to outgrow the pot. (If the rhizome has grown out the side, you'll have to cut the net pot apart.)

They also do well mounted on slabs of bark, but the rhizomes will tend to wander everywhere (and it's hard to repot them onto a different slab, so dividing the plants is your only recourse.) Growing them mounted also requires more humidity, and daily misting and spraying.

For a potting mix, I use New Zealand sphagnum moss. Its absorbency means that the roots have plenty of air, but are constantly given very high humidity. They generally don't like to dry out too much, so it's best to water as they approach dryness. In fact, Bill Thoms, the orchid grower with the most awards for his orchid culture and an expert in Bulbophyllums, says the secret to growing them well is best expressed in three words: "more water longer". (He has a book, Bulbophyllums, The Incomplete Guide: From A to Why?, which is an excellent resource. I recommend it highly.)

They like high humidity, about 70%.

They like intermediate light, about 2000 footcandles or a bit higher. Relatively bright East-facing windows or slightly-shaded south-facing windows work well for this. They like a bit more light than you'd use for Phalaenopsis orchid care but most don't need nearly as much as Cattleya orchids do. If your plant doesn't bloom well, try increasing the lighting.

Most species prefer intermediate temperatures, 70-80°F (21-27) during the day, with a 10-15°F (6-8C) drop at night.

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