When new growth appears on your orchid plant, it can be tricky to identify whether the growth is a flower spike or an orchid root.
Orchid roots usually have green, rounded tips and they will start to develop a silvery or whitish covering as they grow.
Orchid spikes are a lot greener than orchid roots, and have flatter, mitten-shaped tips. Even as the spike grows longer, it remains constantly green until it reaches its full length. The spikes usually emerge from between the plant’s leaves, while roots grow from the center of the plant.
In this article, we will discuss the differences between orchid spikes and roots.
What are the differences between an orchid spike and an orchid root?
When you are a novice orchid grower, telling an orchid spike from a root can be quite difficult, but know that the longer you care for these plants and the more experience you have handling them, the easier it will get.
When the growth is just protruding from the base of the plant, the root is rounder and will have a more uniform tip, while the orchid spike is much greener and will not have as round a tip as the root.
The length and shape of the orchid spike is pretty consistent until you get to the end of the spike, where the tip will look like a mitten. The hard, triangular bumps at the tip are the ones that give the spike its “mitten” shape.
An orchid root is softer, rounder and will be a lighter shade of green. The orchid’s roots will also tend to change color when watered.
Orchid spikes develop between the leaves of the orchid, usually opposite the old spike. In the beginning, the spike will be thick and hard, but it will become more tender, fine and slim over time.
What should I do as the orchid spike grows?
Instinctively, you will want to rotate the plant every couple of days once you see a flower spike growing, but it is advisable not to do so. This is because the spike is going to want to grow toward the light source, so if you keep turning the plant round, it will bend all sorts of ways to grow in different directions as you rotate it. The shape of the spike will then not be as attractive as it would otherwise be.
To guide the spike in the shape and direction you want it to grow, you can try inserting a bamboo stake into the plant’s pot and clip the spike to the stake as the spike grows. Just make sure that you do not clip the spike to the stake too early, because you might end up snapping the spike off in your enthusiasm. Wait until the spike is a few inches long, and it will be much easier to bend it to your will.
As the orchid spike grows, clip it with a second orchid clip, or just take the first orchid clip and move it up the stake to support the spike.
Clipping the spike to a stake is only one option; you can also let the spike grow out with no support so that it arches outward. This is a great option if you keep your orchid in a spot with plenty of space around it.
How long does it take to grow an orchid spike?
The time required for an orchid spike to grow is dependent on the type of orchid. For the Phalaenopsis orchid, for example, it will take the spike around two to three months to fully develop from a little bump on the side of the stem.
Exposing the plant to plenty of sun can also affect the speed of growth, since promoting photosynthesis often helps the plant grow faster.
Will cutting a spike induce root growth?
Yes, cutting a spike back as close as you can to a node will induce the plant to focus more on root growth because it knows that root growth is imperative to its maturation.
You can prune the spike off or just leave it alone until it turns brown and dries out. The spike will be much easier to break off when this happens. Some people prefer this method of getting rid of a spike because it does not leave an open wound on the plant. Open wounds can lead to possible problems in the future if not correctly cared for.
While the orchid spike is drying up, the plant will focus its energy on new growth, but the transfer of energy and resources will not be as instantaneous as in the case of cutting the spike off. It may take longer to wait for the spike to dry out, but when you think about it, this is how orchids live and die in the wild, so you are essentially just imitating its natural life cycle.
There are those that believe letting an orchid spike turn brown will lead to the spike rotting, but as long as you are careful and use sterilized tools, your plant will be completely fine.
When do I leave the orchid spike on the plant?
When all of the flowers have fallen off of the spike, it will usually shrivel naturally. The tip of the stem will turn brown, and the brown color will move down the stem as the plant slowly redirects its energy from the dying stem to more worthwhile endeavors. Remember that it will not harm the orchid if you leave the spike on the plant to undergo its natural process.
You must still be on the lookout for possible bacterial or fungal infections on the dying orchid spike. If this happens, cut the spike back to the first node. This is so that bacteria or fungi cannot spread to the main stem of the plant. If you need to remove the entire spike, do so because the health of the entire plant is more important.
If the spike becomes completely dry, it will be easy to just pull off of the plant.
An orchid spike is a plant stem from which new leaves and flowers will grow, while the orchid root is what the plant uses to absorb nutrients and water from the potting medium or from the air around it.
An orchid spike is much greener and firmer than an orchid root when touched. It has a distinct mitten-shaped tip because of the triangular bumps on it. An orchid root is less green and is rounder at the tip than the orchid spike.
The orchid spike grows out from between the leaves of the orchid, while the root will grow out from the center of the plant.
Image: istockphoto.com / Olgaviare