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Plant of the week: Darwin’s orchid, a beautiful flower with star-shaped blooms

Even the most experienced plant parents get nervous around orchids. These flowering plants have a very dedicated community of their own. They’re notoriously hard to care for and most varieties are rare and expensive, so picking one up at the garden center isn’t always an option. This makes it even more intimidating to get into orchids, but we’re here to help with our guide on how to care for one of the more striking varieties — the Darwin’s orchid.

darwin's orchid

What is a Darwin’s orchid?

The Angraecum sesquipedale is native to Madagascar and has a lot of nicknames, including Darwin’s orchid, Madagascar orchid, Christmas orchid, Comet orchid, King of Angraecum, and Star of Bethlehem orchid. But, no matter what you call it, this orchid is stunning and will make a fantastic addition to any orchid collection. They’re slow-growing plants but can eventually reach three feet tall. The leaves are dark green with hints of gray, and they get about 8 to 19 inches long and 2 to 3 inches wide. The plant typically grows in coastal areas and gets rainfall throughout the year, but it blooms in the winter and can produce more than one bloom per plant. The juvenile flowers are whitish-green and transform to pure white when mature. Surprisingly, these blooms can last up to two months!

How to care for a Darwin’s orchid

While this plant is gorgeous, its care requirements are quite tricky and not beginner-friendly. This plant is probably best with an experienced and maybe even advanced plant enthusiast who already has experience with orchids.

Water

The roots of the orchid like their soil moist. Because of this, you’ll want to be extra sure that your pot and soil are well-draining. Overwatering a plant is the easiest and quickest way to kill it with root rot.

During the summer, you should water the plant every day. While it’s flowering, be sure the soil around the plant remains moist. During the winter months, you can water the plant less often but still, you should be careful to not let the soil dry out at all.

Light

The Star of Bethlehem orchid needs bright, dappled, indirect light. This plant grows on the side of a large tree and is protected from the sun by the leaves and branches of the tree. Direct light can burn the leaves, so be sure to protect them from that. To encourage more blooms, provide the plant with as much safe sunlight as you can between September and November.

Food

Owners of the Comet orchid should feed it every seven to 10 days. Find a fertilizer formulated for orchids that will have a higher amount of nitrogen than most fertilizers.

darwin's orchid flowers

Temperature

Getting the temperature right for the Darwin’s orchid is one of the most complex parts of its care. It prefers warmer (around 70 to 85 degrees) temperatures with good ventilation. It will need for there to be a temperature difference during the night and day, at least a 10 to 15 degree difference. No, we aren’t kidding; this is a crucial part of the very specialized care this plant needs to thrive in your home. In the winter, it will want to be cooler (60 to 75 degrees).

Humidity

The Angraecum sesquipedale won’t survive in dry conditions. It will need the humidity of its home to be around 80 percent all year round. Unfortunately, this is hard to achieve in most homes and likely will require a unique setup. So be sure to keep this in mind while considering adding this plant to your collection.

Transplanting

To ensure your Comet orchid is happy and healthy, you’ll want to transfer it to a new pot home about every two to three years. This gives the plant new soil for better nutrients and adds air back into the soil, which is extremely vital for the health of an orchid. The soil will need plenty of bark to keep the aeration good for the rest of the year.

Additional care

This plant will produce mini versions of itself at the base of the plant. These are referred to as pups or babies and can be easily removed for propagation and sharing with friends or to grow your collection. Just be sure to allow the pup to mature enough to survive independently. For a while, the plant will receive most of what it needs from the mother plant, so removing too early can kill the pup. However, if you wait too long, the pup and the mother plant will be too connected to safely remove the baby without harming the mother plant. Which is fine: You don’t have to remove the pups at all. You can leave them to grow with the mother plant, resulting in a fuller and dramatic look to your Darwin’s orchid.

Now that you have a better understanding of what this plant needs, you can make a more educated decision about whether or not you should add this tricky plant to your home. Although they’re beautiful, they’re not easy to care for and require very special setups to ensure they live happy and healthy lives.

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