Orchids Records

How long can an orchid live?

Ill.: clipart-library.com, montage: laidbackgardener.blog

Question: How many years can an orchid live? I have had one for 13 years and it’s given me a baby I potted up on its own. Both bloom and are very beautiful. But do aging orchids need any kind of special care? Mine was given to me when my husband died and I don’t want to lose it.

Lise Lavertue

Answer: An orchid has no specific lifespan. Under the right conditions, it can live for decades, even a century or more. And there is no specific maintenance for an older orchid. Simply repot at least every 3 or 4 years into an orchid potting mix. (Read here to learn how to repot an orchid) Repotting in fresh growing mix is like a fountain of youth for orchids, rejuvenating them pretty much completely.

There are undoubtedly orchids more than a hundred years old somewhere in the wild, but since there is no one to note their progress, we’ll never know for sure. And orchids have no trunk, so they leave no rings we can count.

This giant orchid (Grammatophyllum speciosum) is 159 years old. Photo: straitstimes.com

However, there is at least one cultivated orchid that is over 100 years old. At the Singapore Botanical Garden, there is a specimen of giant orchid (Grammatophyllum speciosum), also called tiger orchid, which was planted in 1861, shortly after the garden was founded, and is therefore 159 years old. It still grows in the original spot and now measures over 5 m (16 ft) in diameter.

Postcard from the 1920s showing the orchid growing strong. Photo: straitstimes.com

There are photos dating back as far as the late 19th century showing the orchid in its current location.

The same orchid in a photo of undisclosed date, probably in the 1970s. Photo: A. Schuiteman, http://www.nationaalherbarium.nl

The giant orchid is native to the jungles of Singapore and elsewhere in Southeast Asia where it grows as an epiphyte, on rocks or on the ground. It’s the tallest orchid in the world, up to 7.62 m (25 ft) tall according to Guinness World Records, with cane-shaped pseudobulbs up to 2.5 m (8 ft) high. Each pseudobulb produces a stem of up to 80 yellow flowers heavily spotted with reddish brown. Usually, the giant orchid flowers only once every 2 to 4 years, the bloom then lasting about 2 months.

Flower of the giant orchid (Grammatophyllum speciosum). Jardin Boricua, flickr.com

Due to its enormous size, the giant orchid is rarely cultivated in private homes, but specimens can be found in several botanical gardens around the world, both outdoors in tropical countries and in greenhouses in temperate ones.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

1 comment on “How long can an orchid live?

  1. Orchids are regularly replacing themselves, so a pup is an extension of the original. Orchid potting medium eventually decomposes, but some orchids do not care much if simply potted on top of fresher medium as necessary.

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