Himalaya’s own high-altitude beauty

SCALING THE HEIGHTS: The stunning pleione orchid is found in the mountainous regions from Nepal to Taiwan.
SCALING THE HEIGHTS: The stunning pleione orchid is found in the mountainous regions from Nepal to Taiwan.

One of the best known terrestrial orchids is the Asian pleione orchid found growing naturally in the Himalayan area from Nepal eastwards to Taiwan, where they grow in mats of moss and leaf litter that accumulate among rocks and on mountain slopes. 

They are almost epiphytic in habit, but are classed as terrestrials.

Unlike many orchids that grow on long stems often hanging in beautiful swags, pleione flowers erupt almost straight from the bulb. 

The flowers arise on a short stem from a smooth, dark green bulb that sometimes is flushed with purple. Only one leaf is produced by each bulb.

The root run of pleiones is quite shallow so they are most suited to grow in half-pots, six centimetres deep, in a very open potting mix. In the garden, plant in well-drained, vertical crevices in a rock garden.

For a natural effect plant the bulbs in groups. Avoid areas that are damp and cold.

For ease of cultivation they are divided into autumn and spring flowering types.

Pleione praecox is the earliest species to flower just as the old leaves on the past year’s pseudo bulbs die back in the autumn. The flowers are slightly scented, deep pink with a frilly darker pink lip.

Pleione praecox ‘Alba’ has paler flowers which almost appear to be white. 

The main cause of failure is over-watering. The soil should be kept moist but never over-watered especially in winter. It’s best to wait until the mix begins to feel a little dry before watering.  

Feeding pleiones is simple. A teaspoon of composted chicken pellets such as Dynamic Lifter will prove to be plenty. When repotting add this to mix.  

Repotting is done when the flowers have died down and the new pseudo-bulb is developing at the base of the old pseudo-bulb which shrivels and dies. The new growth should be completed by the late autumn when the old leaves turn yellow and drop.

Store the pseudo-bulbs in a dry, cool place for the winter. In early spring take them from their pots, remove all the old bracts and roots and repot to a depth of half their size into the fresh compost.  

Small bulbils produced at the tops of the bulbs can be removed and replanted. 

Don’t allow the bulbs to become too dry otherwise they will dehydrate. Replant them as soon as possible after you have dug them up.

War on Weeds

During this month and next the most continuous and important task in the garden is to lightly cultivate around plants and hand weed to keep fast-growing, troublesome weeds under control.

The most difficult plants to weed around are the annuals as only careful hand weeding can cope with chickweed and the like, preventing them from smothering the flowers and producing a good crop of seed of their own.

Another way to control weeds is the establishment of dense groundcovering plants to choke them out.

The most commonly used and successful groundcover plants include the ivy-leafed geraniums, gazanias, mesembryanthemum and in larger areas ajuga, bergenia and cerastium. 

DIARY 

October 21:  Cherry Blossom Celebrations at the Emu Valley Rhododendron Garden at Romaine, Burnie from 10am to 3pm. Gardens open daily 9am to 5pm. Tea room open 10am to 4pm.

October 22:  Tasmanian Natural Garlic & Tomatoes annual sale, 338 Four Springs Road, Selbourne has over 100 varieties of tomato seedlings including  heirloom, dwarf, early, mid- and late-season plus chillies, capsicums, pumpkin, melons and corn. Open from 10am to 3pm.