Growing Orchids Indoors Francis Quesada-Pallares

Francis has now been growing orchids for 12-13 years, and he successfully grows over 1000 mixed plants inside a 2 bedroom council flat (ground floor). He initially started growing a few supermarket tropical plants & Phals which he kept on the storage heaters to provide the warmth that they needed. This of course was a salutary lesson for him, and a rethink proved more successful. His first proper named Phal – Brother Pico Vallezar followed, which he still has, and flowers on a regular basis. His infatuation with orchids has led to him setting up an online business –

His growing conditions can be divided into 3 separate areas, and these are terrariums for the cooler more humid plants, the window sills and coffee tables, and under lamps.

Terrariums are used for cooler growing terrestrials, mainly the Pleuros and miniatures. A terrarium is used mainly for reptiles rather than fish tanks which are built of thicker glass and have to be heavily built to be watertight. The fittings etc are still those used for aqua culture, with lights, as well as 4 fans – 2 each to draw air in, and 2 to expel air. Humidity is provided by a misting device used every 3 hours 4 times per day. It is a product called Lucky Reptile Super Rain (See the website – for details. They are available in relevant stores & through Amazon – Ed.). One plant grown is Pths. schiedie (syn. Stelis villosa) which is unusual in having dangling appendages on the petals that sway in the wind. The plant is only 2-3cm tall with 1cm flowers. Porroglossum dreisei is another small plant that has an starry orange flower with an adapted lip that acts as a trigger that keeps the pollinator inside for several seconds to ensure that pollen is collected prior to release. Other plants include Restrepia guttulata, dodsonii & purpurea. Pleurothallopsis inaequalis is another, although too large to be a miniature.

Windowsills & coffee tables hold smallish pots in individual saucers to keep some water around the roots to counteract the drier atmosphere. It doesn’t suit all plants, and Francis definitely doesn’t recommend it as a standard practise. Plants for the windowsill are placed according to how much sunlight they are able to put up with. In the SE window you would find Angraceum didieri x mahavavense, a low growing primary hybrid that flowers constantly with long scented flowers. the north window finds plants like Aspasia lunata that needs low light (as with many Oncidiums). There is also Bletilla striata – UK hardy, but would be stolen if put outside in pots. As it is a bit warmer than this specie’s optimum the flowers only tend to last for a few days. Bulb. fascinator also grows here very successfully next to the Phals. Be aware though that this long flowered species has an odour of sweaty feet…

Den. fimbriatum var. oculatum will produce canes to 1m tall – which is the limit for growing indoors, but the pendant clusters of deep yellow flowers is the reason to grow it. Den kingianum is a variable species that can often tend towards a similar height in mature plants. Den. thrysiflorum is another tall species, and is his favourite in the Dendrobiums despite the flowers being short lived. It is supposed to require a cooler dry rest, but is watered all year around with little downside – perhaps the environment suits it!

Not all the Pleuros grow in the terrariums as the warmer growing ones live in the room including Pths. (now Acianthera) limae – a lithophyte from Brazil that has tallish leaves that produce reddish yellow flowers from the base of the centre rib. Epi. schlecterianum is a small species4-5cm tall that spreads fairly rapidly, and has 2 flowers to each growth that are the colour of the foliage, so can be overlooked. Gastrochilus japonicus is an interesting species with small yellow flowers with a lip that is semi pouched. Polystachya rosea has tiny pink flowers, and Sarc. fitzhart likes a bit more light as well as being a little bit cooler. A few Cattleyas live on tables, and these are the more compact hybrid forms such as Chrystelle Smith with apricot pink flowers. L. anceps is quite a low growing species, but it will produce flower spikes up to 1m long that need staking otherwise they will tend to snap. Thunias are the final indoor plants, and are deciduous growers to almost 1m tall with quite spectacular flowers.

Under lamps is the final growing area. This is the 2nd bedroom, and consists of 3 converted bookcases. These are substantial bookcases, and not as flimsy as some of the cheap MDF types that fall apart if they get wet. Each shelf is fitted with 2 fluorescent tubes – 1 each of cool light (red spectrum end) and warm light (blue spectrum end). As these are straightforward fittings they are cheaper to purchase and run as opposed to growlamps/lights. The lights are on for 12 hours a day, every day. These shelves are mainly for Phal species, as well as a few Cattleya species, and more recently a few Paphiopedilums. The higher temperatures and light levels are useful for all of these genuses. In other genuses Polystachya pubescens grows here with its unusual golden upside down flowers, as well as Bulb. lobbii that really enjoys the conditions. Cynorkis fastigiata is a terrestrial considered as a weed in its native habitat (Madagascar etc.) as it self- pollinates then the seeds grow everywhere (other pots etc.) The flower is not unlike that of the European Man orchid. Max. gracilis will produce lots of flowers if given lots of water. Mormolyca ringens is a genus close to Maxillaria, producing similar brown flowers. Leptotes bicolor is really at home under lights and is a small plant with large starry flowers of white with a purple lip. Lycaste Kenneth is a well known hybrid that is thankfully more compact than some of the other species and hybrids, but does produce leaves for only 4 months or so of the year. Gastrochilus retrocallus (Syn. Haraella retrocalla) is a favourite plant that is very low growing with delightful short yellow flowers.

Finally a few of the Phal species were covered. amboinensis is a fragrant flower of short spikes of yellow flowers with concentric red bars on the petals. bellina is now a species, having formerly been violascens var. borneo (and a number of other varieties as well). It can get large leaved, but with short spikes of pretty yellow flowers with a reddish mask. It has a bit of a scent of cinnamon. The flowers are produced sequentially, and the spikes should be left intact once flowering has finished as they will continue to re flower for up to a further 5 years. Cornu-cervi has colourful small flowers on an ever extending spike that starts off round, then flattens out, and eventually branches. Each spike can produce flowers sequentially in excess of a year. deliciosa is a small and varied species that is nicely marked. equestris is very colour variable, and is useful in hybridisation allowing for branching on small flowered offspring. It is noted for producing keikis. kunstleri has flowers that don’t look like Phal flowers ought to as the petals reflect somewhat along their length. It produced around 3 small orange & brown barred flowers per spike. schilleriana is a rarity with mottled foliage that is almost striped. The roots tend to be warted, and can also produce new plants from broken roots. tetraspis is a small plant that needs high light to produce the odd pink barring on the white flowers, otherwise it tends to appear as an alba. violacea is an almost triangular flower with a strong scent. the yellowish flowers have a deep coloured mask on the lower petals and lip.Although not the anticipated talk, this was still quite interesting with just a hint of what might have been…