Growing Paphs in Windowsills: A Full Circle but with New Perspective

As of this writing, I can hear the rain beating against the skylights as it glazes our country roads with ice; weather which forecasters predict will turn to snow for the next three days--not a landscape most 24-year veterans to sunny Florida would look forward to. Returning to Vermont presents new challenges, not to mention relearning how to negotiate snow and ice. Still, the winter wonderland is apparent everywhere, and some days are even sunny! In this setting, orchidists really appreciate growing orchids! We are growing just three paphiopedilums as house plants. How do paphs respond to home conditions?


The three paphs we have to start with are: Paphiopedilum Maudiae ‘The Queen’, P. venustum, and P. St. Swithin. I have seen Paphiopedilum Maudiae grown under normal fluorescent lights in Michigan with some success, therefore this hybrid seems a good choice. Paphiopedilum venustum forms a full circle for me having been my first orchid acquired in 1959 (different clone). The most interesting plant for this modest experiment is Paphiopedilum St. Swithin. Although a hybrid, both parents (P. rothschildianum and P. philippinense) thrive in the wild in bright and sometimes full sun. Can a coryopedilum paph thrive as a house plant?


Potting materials for the P. Maudiae and P. venustum consist of locally collected live sphagnum, but I used limestone chat with about 5% compost for the P. St. Swithin. One of the notable differences I note in all three plants compared with growing in Florida is the turgidity of the leaves, which I attribute to water quality. Bending a leaf, especially of P. Maudiae, can easily result in breakage. I could never acquire such turgid leaves in Sarasota. All three plants are in active growth producing broader leaves. Specific results follow.


Paphiopedilum Maudiae has a flower spanning a full 13.5 cm vertically supported on a scape 42 cm long including the ovary which I failed to stake. The plant has four new growths, and a fifth has appeared from the old rhizome.


Paphiopedilum venustum responded to the heat of Sarasota with weak growths sporting dull leaves, but the recent growth is more robust with pronounced patterning on its waxy leaves. It has a single flower on a short scape. It has six new shoots developing, and time will determine if our growing conditions will repeat the success of years ago.


The biggest surprise is the vigor of P. St. Swithin now sporting four buds. I would have expected at most two buds at this latitude. Is this light-lover producing one last gasp before expiring? The new growth with broadened leaves suggests a plant in perfect health. Perhaps there is basis for optimism from the habitats. In the wild both parents of P. St. Swithin are usually exposed to bright light during midday unlike their mottled leaved forest floor relatives. Is it possible that the drier home atmosphere is close to nature? What about light? Many of our days are overcast, yet windows are quite sunny on bright days, and there is supplemental light during the evening from an adjacent lamp. Maybe different aspects of our growing conditions mimic the natural habitat. The sun of a southerly window comes in at a low angle making rooms bright during midday. The maximum angle of the sun with the earth at our latitude is 23 degrees on December 21 compared with 40 degrees in Sarasota, Florida. Although the days are short, the sun hits the same window at sun-up as well as sundown. There may be another clue from the habitat. Paphiopedilum rothschildianum and P. philippinense usually grow on the sides of cliffs receiving light from an oblique angle, suggesting that the south window in our latitude may be optimal for these orchids. The only negative aspect of these plants as house plants is their shear size, but perhaps a more compact clone of Paphiopedilum philippinense could be used as a parent. Orchid growing has come a long way since Veitch proclaimed, “Cypripedium philippinense has its home in one of the hottest regions of the world, growing in the blaze of a tropical sun and exposed to the force of the monsoon storms, climatic conditions that are simply impossible in the glass structures of Europe” (Manual of Orchidaceous Plants, part 4, 1889). What would Veitch think of growing its hybrid in a sunny window?


Most orchidists would have difficulty restricting themselves to three plants, yet a limited and carefully selected collection allows for more detailed observation. If vigorous growth over the next year confirms my surprise with P. St. Swithin, I will encourage growing coryopedilum paphs as house plants!