How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Spathoglottis Orchids

Thinking of growing a Spathoglottis Orchid, but aren't sure where to start? These popular flowers are beautiful, but can be a bit tricky to grow. In this article, gardening expert and Orchid enthusiast Melissa Strauss examines all you need to know about Spathoglottis Orchids and their care.

Spathoglottis Orchid blooming in garden with bright pink flowers

Spathoglottis Orchids are commonly known as Ground Orchids for their habit of growing in the ground rather than in trees, as most genera of orchids are apt to do. Found in the wild primarily in Southeast Asia, a few species are also found in Australia and the Pacific Islands.

Compared to other types of orchids, Spathoglottis tend to be easier to care for, as their soil and drainage needs are significantly different. Although they like good drainage, they are able to tolerate moist soil most of the time. They make wonderful garden plants in zones 9-10, but in other zones, they can also be grown in pots and brought indoors during times of cold weather.

The genus Spathoglottis was established in 1825 by German-Dutch botanist Carl Ludwig Blume and named for the Greek words spathe and glottis meaning ‘flower tongue.’ It encompasses 49 species as well as one natural hybrid.

This species is well known for being prolific bloomers with large, colorful, long-lasting flowers. They have been widely hybridized to promote their excellent blooming ability. Let’s dive in a little deeper and look at all aspects of Spathoglottis Orchids and their care.

Spathoglottis Orchid Plant Overview

Spathoglottis Orchid growing in garden with light lavender flower petals.
Plant Type Terrestrial Evergreen
Season Summer
Pests Mealybugs, Spider Mites
Family Orchidaceae
Exposure Full Sun to Part Shade
Diseases Root Rot, Brown Spot, Anthracnose
Genus Spathoglottis
Maintenance Moderate
Plant Spacing Individual Containers or 12”-18”
Species About 50
Planting Depth 1x depth and 1.5x width of root ball
Soil Type Loamy
Native Area Southeast Asia
Height up to 2’ tall
Plant with Palms and Succulents
Hardiness Zone 9-10
Watering Needs Once Per Week
Attracts Pollinating Insects

Classification

Close-up of a flowering Spathoglottis orchid plant against a blurred green background. The flowers are large, bright purple with white vertical highlights on the petals and sepals.
This is a terrestrial species native to Southeast Asia that produces large, bright, and long-lasting flowers.

Spathoglottis Orchids are a unique genus of orchids in that they are considered to be terrestrial evergreens. The majority of orchids are epiphytic or lithophytic and perennial or deciduous.

Terrestrial

A beautiful ground orchid or Spathoglottis on a blurred leafy background. Pink-violet flowers, have sepals and petals of the same shape and size, have protruding pink labels with a yellow tint closer to the centers of the flowers.
This species is terrestrial and grows well both indoors and outdoors.

Terrestrial plants are plants that grow on the earth. While most types of orchids are air plants that grow on trees, Spathoglottis grow in the ground. So, their soil requirements are significantly different from the standard orchid potting mix.

Where most orchids are considered perennial, these orchids are evergreen they do not have a dormant period unless they are living outdoors in a climate outside of their native zones 9-10. If grown indoors or in their native zones, they will continue to grow year-round.

Sympodial

View from above, close-up of a blooming inflorescence of orchids in a sunny garden against a blurred background of bright green, strap-like, long foliage with parallel veins. The flowers are small, bright, pink-purple in color with petals and sepals of the same shape.
Sympodial orchids are distinguished by the fact that their rhizome grows horizontally.

Orchids fall into two growth habit categories, monopodial and sympodial. Monopodial orchids, like Phalaenopsis, grow vertically on a central stem or rhizome. They produce leaves and flower spikes continuously from this rhizome.

Spathoglottis, like Cattleya and Dendrobium Orchids, are sympodial which means that their rhizome grows horizontally. This central stem or root sends up individual pseudobulbs rather than continuing to grow as one unit from a single root system.

Each pseudobulb produces leaves and ultimately its own inflorescence. Each pseudobulb is like an individual plant with its own root system. The spent bulbs contain nutrients that support the new growth, so it is better to leave them attached.

Flower Formations

Close-up of blooming Spathoglottis flowers against a blurred green background. 4-5 flowers are grouped on a tall stem. The flowers are medium-sized with sepals and petals of the same size and shape, pink with white highlights in the middle. A slightly elongated yellow lip with a pink tip protrudes from the center of the flower, resembling a long tongue.
Their flowers bloom in groups and have petals and sepals of the same size and shape.

Spathoglottis flowers bloom in groups on long flower spikes. It is not unusual to have a dozen or more flowers on one stem. The flowers typically open in succession from the lowest bud, or that which is closest to the leaves, and proceed upward.

The flowers have three tepals and two petals which are typically uniform in size, shape, and color. This gives the appearance of 5 uniform petals, but the sepals will occasionally be narrower or slightly darker in color.

Spathoglottis gets its name from its labellum, or lip, which in this case, resembles a protruding tongue. The size and shape of the lip vary from one species to another but is commonly long, thin, and slightly scalloped at the tip.

The lip is like a landing pad for pollinators. It connects and leads to the column, which is where the orchid houses its reproductive system, pollen, and nectar. They frequently have a longer than usual column that curves forward at the end.

Propagation

Propagating orchids is typically done in one of three ways, although two of the three are decidedly easier and faster than the third. The easiest way to propagate a Spathoglottis is via division or keikis.

Division

Close-up of divided sympodial orchid plants in a red round bowl with green pruners. Plants have light brown rhizomes and long, thin, flat, strap-like leaves of bright green color.
Remove the orchid from the pot and cut the rhizome between two pseudobulbs.

Dividing orchids is fairly uncomplicated. There are slight differences between division of a monopodial orchid versus a sympodial orchid, but the process is similar.

As I mentioned, each pseudobulb of a sympodial orchid has its own roots, but they are held together in a chain by that central rhizome which helps carry water and nutrients from one to another.

This is the reason that it is important to leave spent (already flowered) pseudobulbs attached to the plant until they are dry and brown. A pseudobulb will only flower once.

To divide a Spathoglottis orchid, remove it from its potting medium, and lightly shake out the roots. Slice through the rhizome in between two pseudobulbs, taking care to leave spent bulbs attached to both parts. Then simply repot each plant, and they will continue to produce their own new growth.

Keikis

A close-up of the roots of an offshoot of an orchid that grows on a mother plant. The sprouts are small, light green in color, attached to a thick, long, green stem with white vertical stripes.
A completely independent young plant can form on orchid pseudobulbs.

The word keiki is a Hawaiian word that means “child” or “baby.” Many species of orchids, including some Spathoglottis orchids, produce these tiny independent plants.

They are different from pseudobulbs in that they form on an old pseudobulb first as a tiny root system, and finally, an entirely independent plant that is attached to the parent plant.

This is more or less an orchid’s way of cloning itself. An orchid grown from seed is something of a mystery, particularly if it is the seed of a hybrid variety, whereas a keiki is an exact replica of its parent plant. The flowers and foliage will be identical. It should be noted that keikis are more common with monopodial orchids.

From Seed

Close-up of 8 foil-sealed glass bottles with orchid seeds germinating inside. Inside the bottles there are germinated orchid sprouts in nutrient-dense muddy water.
Asymbiotic germination is the process of placing orchid seeds into a flask with a nutrient-rich substance for germination.

Growing orchids from seed is a complicated and tedious process that involves a sterile environment and nutrient-rich substance for the seed to use for energy.

Orchid seeds are incredibly small and have no endosperm of their own. In nature, they attach themselves to mycorrhizal fungi, which break down the nutrients they need to germinate and begin the growth process.

This process is referred to as symbiotic germination, and it is nearly impossible to replicate without a sterile laboratory environment, as orchid seeds are incredibly vulnerable to bacteria and fungi. This is not an option for most home gardeners, but there is hope for home gardeners who want to grow orchids from seed.

Asymbiotic germination is a slightly simpler process wherein orchid seeds are placed and sealed into a glass bottle or flask with a nutrient-rich substance that causes germination to occur.

This process is called “flasking” and while it is a possibility for most home gardeners, it is a long and tedious process that can take anywhere from 2-7 years to result in a flowering plant.

Growing Spathoglottis Orchids

Once you have purchased, divided, or grown your Spathoglottis orchid, there are a number of elements of care that will ensure maximum health and maximum flowering in your future.

Soil

Close-up of a gardener's hands pouring orchid soil into a translucent purple flower pot. The gardener is dressed in a striped white and black T-shirt and bright green gloves with blue blotches. Soil mixture is scattered on a white table.
Terrestrial orchids prefer to grow in loamy, organic-rich soil.

This species diverges in this area from other types of orchids. This is due to their terrestrial rather than epiphytic nature. Most orchids need to be planted in a special, bark-heavy orchid mix in order to achieve a similar environment to that in which they grow in nature.

Because they are terrestrial, they do not grow on the bark of trees but rather in the ground. If you are planting your orchids in the ground, they need no special considerations. Any decent soil with some organic matter should be just fine as long as the drainage is good.

If you are potting in a container, they prefer loamy soil. They need soil that is rich in organic matter, so they will require repotting every few years. A good mixture would be 60% peat and a 40% mixture of perlite and bark.

Containers

Close-up of hanging pots with a Spathoglottis plant in a greenhouse. Orchids grow in large clay and terracotta pots with round drainage holes. The plant has long, strap-like, pale green leaves with tapered tips.
This species grows well in terracotta pots with ample drainage.

Spathoglottis also does not need the same type of container as an epiphytic orchid. These orchids have rather extensive root systems, which will need some space to grow. If you want to maximize the health and growth of your plant, make sure it has room in its container.

A standard pot will work for this purpose. However, like all orchids, this species really needs good drainage to maintain healthy roots. Orchids have a tendency toward root rot, which happens when the roots sit in water for a period of time and begin to break down.

Make sure you plant your orchid in a pot with ample drainage. A terracotta pot is ideal, as this material wicks water away from the roots, allowing for some moisture to be retained, but in such a way that the roots are not waterlogged.

Planting Depth

Close-up of Spathoglottis potted orchids in clay pots in a greenhouse. Plants have long, flat, bright green, strap-like leaves and thick stems. The soil in the pots is black and moist.
This species should be planted at a depth of 1.5 times the width of the root ball.

Spathoglottis planted in the ground needs a hole that is as deep and 1.5x the width of the root ball. The leaves should be even with the surrounding undisturbed soil.

If you are planting in a container, choose a container that your plant can grow into. These are fast-growing plants, and they will need to be repotted every 2-3 years to accommodate new growth.

Light

Close-up of a blooming Spathoglottis orchid plant in a sunny garden against a blurred green background. A small inflorescence of small flowers of rich purple color. The flower consists of three sepals with more pointed tips and two petals with slightly wavy edges. A slightly elongated labellum protrudes from the center of the flower, resembling the shape of a tongue.
The ideal light situation for growing orchids is indirect or filtered light.

Here is another area where Spathoglottis orchids tend to vary from many other types. Because most orchids grow in trees, we can deduce that their ideal light situation is indirect or filtered light. Full sun will scorch the leaves of a Phalaenopsis orchid in no time at all. This species does not share this characteristic.

Spathoglottis can tolerate full sun to part shade. Some species will tolerate more sun, while some will grow better and prefer to have some shade. In general, these orchids are very sun tolerant compared to other species.

Water

Close-up of a flowering orchid plant covered with water drops. The flowers are medium, with uniform bright pink petals and sepals, and have a slightly elongated yellow lip with rich pink tips.
Orchids need a lot of air circulation and proper drainage.

Overwatering is the number one way to kill an orchid, particularly a potted orchid. Orchids are tropical plants, and so they are accustomed to plenty of rain, but they need a lot of air circulation around their roots to prevent them from breaking down and becoming vulnerable to bacteria and fungus.

Spathoglottis don’t have quite the same need for air circulation as they grow in the ground, but they still need proper drainage, or they will develop root rot, which is difficult to treat.

As with all orchids, these orchids can be watered once per week and should be able to dry out in between waterings. Don’t leave an orchid dried out, but don’t water the plant if it’s still damp.

Climate and Temperature

Close-up of blooming Spathoglottis orchids against a blurred background of a green leafy garden. The flowers are large, consist of two petals and three pink sepals with white tear-shaped marks on the edges.
This species grows well in temperatures ranging from 60-75°C.

Spathoglottis orchids are not cold-tolerant. They will do the bulk of their growth during temperatures in the range of 60°-75. They are tropical plants and will tend to go dormant and can even lose leaves during extended periods of less than 40°.

Also important in terms of climate is an adequate level of humidity. This species likes plenty of it. 60%-70%, to be specific. It can be very difficult and even destructive to maintain these levels inside a home. I have always found that a well-lit (by a window) bathroom is just about the ideal spot for an indoor orchid, a kitchen window is another great option.

Fertilizing

Close-up of a hand in a blue glove pouring liquid brown fertilizer from a pink cap into a large yellow watering can, against a background of blurred orchid plants. There are also colorful orchid flower pots on the table.
Orchids are recommended to be fertilized with a balanced universal fertilizer every week during the flowering period.

Orchids love to be fertilized. It is an entirely reasonable practice to fertilize orchids every week during their growth and flowering seasons. A specialty orchid fertilizer is great, but you can also use a balanced all-purpose fertilizer diluted to half-strength.

This will work just fine if you prefer to go the all-purpose route. During the off-season, fertilizing can be reduced to once every 3-4 weeks to prevent burnout.

Maintenance

Close-up of female hands pruning a potted orchid with large white secateurs in a greenhouse. The gardener is dressed in a plaid blue shirt and white gloves. Orchid plant in a black hanging pot with drainage holes. The plant has long, strap-like leaves of bright green color.
Orchids need to be pruned regularly to ensure growth and flowering.

Apart from the general practices of watering and fertilizing, most orchids do not require much maintenance and actually thrive on a bit of neglect. Spathoglottis are fast growing, so they need to be repotted regularly. Aside from that, there is little else to do.

Orchids do not require regular pruning for growth or flower production. If you encounter an issue with pests or diseases, affected foliage should always be removed with a clean, sharp tool. This will help the plant redirect energy and nutrients toward new growth.

If foliage has burned or been damaged by rot or insects, there is no way to repair the damage. Better to remove the damaged leaves and allow the plant to use its energy elsewhere.

Orchids do naturally shed a few leaves yearly. This is a natural process by which the oldest pseudobulbs will run out of energy and begin to die. The leaves are the first part to go. Once a leaf or pseudobulb turns brown, it is ready to be removed.

Popular Varieties

There are several popular varieties of this orchid species. Each has different bloom qualities and different growth patterns. Let’s take a deeper look at some of the most popular varieties and what you can expect when growing them.

‘Far Out Freckles’

Close-up of a flowering Spathoglottis 'Far Out Freckles' plant against a blurred green leafy background. The flowers are large, consist of three sepals and two petals, pale yellow with bright pink freckles, as if sprayed with a thin spray paint.
This variety is an easy-care orchid that produces pale yellow flowers with pink freckles and edging.
botanical-name botanical name Spathoglottis ‘Far Out Freckles’
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun to Part Shade
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 9-10

‘Far Out Freckles’ is considered one of the easiest orchids to grow. It’s known for this ease of care as well as its stunning flowers. The petals and tepals are a pale creamy yellow color. They have the appearance of being sprayed with a fine mist of spray paint, creating a freckled effect that is more concentrated toward the ends of the petals.

This variety has a complex labellum; the column is long and curved downward at the end. The lip itself is deep purple and slightly forked. This variety has dark green, palm-like leaves.

‘Moonlit Grape’

A close-up of a flowering plant, Spathoglottis Sorbet 'Moonlit Grape', against a blurred green-gray background. A bunch of small beautiful flowers with uniform petals and a sepal of dark purple color, with a white stripe or teardrop shape at the ends. The flowers have yellow centers and small, slightly elongated labellums.
This variety produces dark purple flowers with teardrop-shaped white stripes at the tips of the petals.
botanical-name botanical name Spathoglottis Sorbet ‘Moonlit Grape’
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun to Part Shade
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 9-10

‘Moonlit Grape’ is known for its deep magenta flowers. Petals and tepals are uniform and the same brilliant color, with a white streak or droplet shape at the ends. The column is long and curved, and the labellum of this orchid is solid purple, the same shade as the petals.

‘Mellow Yellow’

Close-up of a blooming Spathoglottis Mellow Yellow plant against a blurred bright green background. The flowers are heart-shaped, star-shaped, consist of three sepals and two bright yellow petals with a pink border. The labellum is slightly elongated with a deep red heart-shaped tip.
This is a newer hybrid with beautiful bright yellow flowers with rose-pink edging.
botanical-name botanical name Spathoglottis Mellow Yellow
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun to Part Shade
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 9-10

‘Mellow Yellow’ is a newer hybrid variety. This pretty plant can flower most of the year in warm climates. Mellow’s flowers resemble bright yellow stars. The tepals and petals are uniform in shape and size, and both are edged with rose pink, although the sepals have more of this coloration than the petals.

This variety has a fun labellum. I like to refer to this particular form as a serpent’s mouth, as it reminds me of the open mouth of a snake. The lip has three lobes, the long, tongue-like bottom lobe and in addition, two rounded, rose-colored side lobes.

‘Purple Passion’

Close-up of a flowering plant Spathoglottis 'Purple Passion' against a blurred leafy background. The flowers are medium sized, solid, bright purple in color with elongated labellums with two lobes.
‘Purple Passion’ has beautiful solid purple flowers that will make an attractive addition to your garden.
botanical-name botanical name Spathoglottis ‘Purple Passion’
sun-requirements sun requirements Full Sun to Part Shade
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 9-10

This lovely, mounding orchid has deep green, pleated leaves, which are an attractive addition to the garden year-round. The flower spikes are topped with pretty, solid purple blooms. The labellum on this variety is very small and inconspicuous, which is unusual for the genus.

Pests and Diseases

As far as orchids go, Spathoglottis are not especially susceptible to pests and diseases. They are fairly hardy and not appealing to deer or squirrels. There are a handful of insects and fungal diseases to look out for though.

Spider Mites

Close-up of a leaf infested with spider mites. Spider mites are tiny white insects that spin webs and suck the sap from the leaves of a plant. The leaf is damaged, orange-brown.
To get rid of spider mites, it is necessary to isolate the plant and treat it with an insecticide.

If you keep your Spathoglottis indoors or in a greenhouse, spider mites are one pest to keep an eye out for. They are very tiny and, most times, undetectable until they have already begun to damage the plant.

Looking at the underside of the leaf is the best spot for detection. The underside of the leaves will turn a silvery color because of the sap being sucked out by these little guys. If you notice or suspect spider mite damage, isolate the plant and treat it with insecticide.

The two-spotted spider mite is the most common spider mite to be found on ground orchids. A test for the detection of these pests is to wipe the underside of the leaves with a clean white cloth. If mites or eggs are present, they will leave brown streaks on the cloth.

Mealybugs

Close-up of mealybugs on a branch of a flowering orchid. Mealybugs are small, soft-bodied insects covered in white cotton wax. There is a large purple orchid flower in the blurry background.
Mealybugs suck the juice from new orchid shoots and stop their growth.

These common pests can also be an issue for this species. These little white bugs reproduce quickly and wreak havoc on a plant by sucking the sap out of new growth, including flower buds. This will cause the new leaves to shrivel, stunting the growth of the plant. It can also prevent the flowers from blooming at all.

Mealybugs are small, white, and often can be seen in clusters. The most telltale sign of an infestation is the sticky excrement they leave behind, called honeydew. If you miss the honeydew, you will definitely see the sooty mold that grows in it.

For a small infestation, you can rub the leaves with an alcohol-soaked cotton swab. If the infestation is advanced, it will be necessary to isolate and treat with insecticides.

Brown Spot

Close-up of an orchid plant with leaves infected with brown spot disease. The leaves are long, thin, flat, strap-shaped, bright green with brown spots. There is a house and a car covered with a white cloth in the blurry background.
This is a bacterial disease that appears as brown spots on the leaves.

Brown Spot disease is bacterial and starts out as small brown spots in the leaves and stems of orchids. These lesions will grow and begin to ooze a bacterial-laden fluid, which is what causes the disease to spread. If the disease infects the crown of the plant, it will die, so it’s important to catch it early.

To treat, isolate and remove all infected tissue. Always clean your cutting tool between cuts, or you risk spreading the bacteria rather than controlling it.

Chemical and antibacterial treatment is necessary to fully treat the plant. It should be observed for up to 2 weeks to make sure it is fit to be reintroduced to other plants.

Root Rot

Close-up of male hands holding rotting orchid roots. The roots are long, pale green and dark brown soft.
The first signs of root rot are yellowing leaves and mushy brown roots.

Root Rot is the most common killer of orchids, and it is caused by overwatering. When the orchid’s roots cannot absorb any more water, they will begin to deteriorate and turn to mush. This makes for an environment perfect for fungus to breed.

The earliest sign of root rot is the mushy brown roots themselves. Sadly, this is difficult to detect, and the first visible sign is typically the yellowing and dropping of leaves. It’s difficult to bring an orchid back from root rot, but not impossible.

Repotting is the best defense against further damage. Trim away any damaged roots and foliage and dust the cuts with cinnamon or sulfur powder. Repot in new potting soil, and a pot with good drainage and water sparingly until you see improvement.

Anthracnose

Close-up of orchid leaves affected by the fungal disease Anthracnose. The leaves are large, long, flat, green in color with smooth edges and large brown black rotten spots.
This is a fungal disease, which is characterized by the appearance of brown spots and leaf fall.

Anthracnose is a fungal disease that results in curling leaves, brown spots, and leaf drop. In larger plants and trees, this rarely requires treatment aside from removing the affected leaves. But we know that many gardening rules don’t apply to orchids.

Orchids with this disease should be isolated and treated with fungicide. Affected leaves should also be removed.

Final Thoughts

Spathoglottis orchids are a unique and beautiful genus that are fast-growing and easy to care for. This species of orchid blooms in a variety of beautiful colors, including white, purple, pink, and yellow.

Their lush, palm-like foliage makes them a wonderful garden plant in warmer climates, and it is a stunning container plant as well. If you are an orchid lover, this fun genus will be very enjoyable to grow.

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