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What is a Moth Orchid?

By Nick Doniger
Updated Feb 08, 2024
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A moth orchid is any of the various species of plants under the scientific name Phalaenopsis amabilis. These plants are most typically grown indoors, as they enjoy fairly stable temperatures and filtered sunlight. They are also considered quite easy to grow; they do not require heavy watering or an expensive soil. Fragrant, colorful, moth-shaped flowers grow most plentifully during the winter and early spring and can last for long periods of time. The colors and patterns seen on the blooms may vary by species.

One of the aspects that the moth orchid is most prized for is the long duration of its blooms. Flowers can last for a few months at a time, generally growing best between December and May. White and pink blooms are most typical, though some can be red, purple, or even yellow. These flowers are often lightly spotted or striped and are between 2 and 5 inches in width (about 5 to 13 centimeters). The name "moth orchid" refers to the shape of the flowers, whose upper and lower side petals resemble the wings of a flying moth.

Since the plant blooms during colder months, the moth orchid is most often kept as a houseplant. It prefers a temperate but somewhat humid environment, and it thrives best in temperatures between 55 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit (about 12.7 to 29.5 degrees Celsius). Mild temperature fluctuations that are typical of home settings will not harm moth orchids, though very unstable temperatures may damage the flowers. The moth orchid also enjoys the filtered light that comes from the plant's being set by a window. Gardeners enjoy the fragrance of the flowers in addition to their appearance.

Most plant experts consider moth orchids to be quite easy to grow. The plants require very light watering, usually about once a week or until the soil becomes almost dry. Rather than a typical, dense soil, moth orchids grow best in a tree bark mix or a rocky, mossy base. They are often grown from rhizomes, but moth orchids are also commercially available as fully grown plants. Aphids, mites, slugs, and some other pests are attracted to these plants, but can be controlled fairly easily if plants are kept indoors.

Most moth orchids grow broad, oval shaped, evergreen leaves. The foliage and the blooms alike, however, may vary by size and color depending on the species. There are over 60 different species of the plant, including Dragon's Gold, Golden Peacock, and Jupiter moth orchids.

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