What eats an orchid?

INTRODUCTION

There is a lot of information on the web about treating scale, some relevant to a specific country, some accurate, some not and much that is contradictory.

The following information is based upon treatment methods that the Native Orchid Society of South Australia (NOSSA) growers have found most effective.

WHAT IS SCALE?

Scale are tiny sap sucking insects of which there are several species in Australia. The female adults build a shield-like cover for protection. The shields are often brown but can be white or red. The shield can be up to 3mm in size. Once a shield is built the adult does not move about but stays in the one position. Ants farm scale as they exude a honeydew sap, a food source for the ants.

Immature scale or crawlers do move about. These can be a different colour from the adult eg juvenile brown scale can be yellow, other species can have grey juveniles. They are lightweight no more than 1mm and easily windborne.

The life cycle is short, and for many species, within a month there is a new generation of scale. Scale multiply rapidly.

Scale tend to attack epiphytic orchids. Evergreen terrestrial orchids may be affected but not the deciduous ones.

EFFECTS OF NOT TREATING SCALE:

Apart from making the plants look ugly, scale left unchecked can

  • infect other plants
  • weaken the plant leading to death of the plant
  • make the plant worthless for shows
  • develop secondary infection of sooty mould
    • treating the scale will treat the mould

Left untreated the new growth will eventually become infected

SCALE PREVENTION:

Inspect and Monitor plants

  • check leaves (both upper and underside), crevices, sheaths, pseudobulbs, stems, etc

Quarantine and treat new plants before introducing them to the orchid collection

  • newly acquired plant can be a major source of scale infestation
  • for thoroughness, use both a contact and systemic spray (see below Types of Sprays)

Preventive spraying

  • schedule spraying 2 – 4 times a year

Consider relocating ferns if they are under orchid benches as this can often be a host for brown scale.

Control ants

  • If free-standing bench or hanging pots are free of scale and plants are not touching any other surface than applying Vaseline around each of the feet/lower part of the hooks will prevent ants and crawlers from moving into the area.
  • Vaseline is waterproof and so will be effective for a long time.

SCALE PREDATORS:

Biological control alone appears to be ineffective but the following is a list of known predators

  • Crypotlaemus montrouzieri Native ladybird feed on mealybugs and felt scale
  • Mallada signata, Green Lace Wings, feed on aphids, spider mites, various scales, mealybugs, moth eggs and small caterpillars
  • Chilocorus beetles
  • Aphystis wasp species

TREATMENT:

Scale are hard to eliminate entirely. Vigilance and persistence are important factors in controlling scale.

Treatment works either by

  • a direct contact spray whereby the insect is suffocated by smothering. This is effective for all stages of the life cycle but particularly for the adult under its shield.
  • an application of a systemic chemical.
  • or a combination of both.

For treatment to be effective the leaves (both upper and underside), crevices, sheaths, pseudobulbs, stems must be thoroughly drenched with the spray of choice.

Types of Sprays

Contact Sprays

Whatever type of contact spray used, treat every 2 weeks for three treatments

  • Soapy Water (for those who like using home-made remedies)
    • Using pure soap (not detergent), suds up a bar in a bowl of water, and pour into a spray bottle.
  • Homemade Horticultural Oils
    • See ABC Fact Sheet: Horticultural Oils for more details on oils.
  • Eco-Oil (Pest oil)
    • No petroleum derivatives; registered organic substance
    • Do not spray on very hot days as it can cause burning.
    • Always dilute (2.5 mls per 1 litre as per instructions on label), never use neat
      • It is important to dilute, as the oil can also block the leaves stomata and so suffocate the plant.
      • It is a foliage spray and should not be used on the plant roots.

Chemical Sprays

Whatever chemical spray is used, repeat within 4 weeks of the initial treatment and then as often as necessary.

Ideally, it is best to use multiple systemic sprays to avoid the scale becoming resistant to the chemical.

  • Confidor
    • Active ingredient Imidacloprid, an insect neurotoxin, is absorbed by the plant and then ingested by the insect
      • low toxicity to humans and pets
      • but use heavier drenching rather than fine mist to avoid inhalation
    • Effective for about 2 – 3 weeks
      • broken down by light so remains in pots and soils for awhile
    • Follow manufacturer’s instructions at the minimum recommended strength.
  • Defender
    • Active ingredient acetamiprid
    • Low toxicity to bees (although bees are not usually a problem in an orchid house)
  • Fipronil
    • High toxicity
    • Harder to obtain
    • 80 – 95% kill rate for slugs and snails

NB: Do not use the contact and chemical spray at the same time

  • Wait a week between using the different types of sprays.
      • Spraying too soon will negate the effects of the first spray.

Additional Treatment

Despite what application is used, all need the following treatment

Rub the scale off taking care not to damage the leaves

  • Use either toothpick, fingernail, toothbrush or cloth/tissue
  • Rubbing the scale off allows for
    • detection of new infestations
  • eggs under the shield to be killed

Thoroughly disinfect any recycled pots

Dispose of all debris as eggs and scale can survive for weeks and reinfect the plants

Imidacloprid https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imidacloprid accessed 5/1/17

Eco-Oil http://ecoorganicgarden.com.au/products/pest-disease/eco-oil/ accessed 7/1/17

Les Nesbitt, NOSSA, pers comm

Kris Kopicki, NOSSA, pers comm

Richard Austin, ANOS Vic, pers comm

Ew, scale insects! Whether flat against leaves or fruit, or lumpy bumps on branches or stems, this widespread superfamily of insects is well over 8000 species strong. Many of them are agricultural pests, while others prey on trees or other plant life.

But they’re all sap-sucking invaders who can spread a wide variety of plant diseases, and nobody wants to discover them on their plants! Today, we’ll go over a variety of these insects, and I’ll tell you how to get them out and keep them out of your green spaces.

Listen to this post on the Epic Gardening Podcast

Subscribe to the Epic Gardening Podcast on iTunes

Organic Solutions:

  • Bonide All-Seasons Horticultural and Dormant Oil
  • Neem Oil
  • AzaMax

Environmental Solutions:

  • Safer Soap
  • Ladybugs
  • Lacewings

Preventative Options:

  • Tanglefoot Tangle-Trap
  • Diatomaceous Earth

Overview

Common Name(s) Scale insects, scale pests, scales, mealybugs, etc.
Scientific Name(s) Over 8000 species with unique names
Family Coccoidea superfamily, multiple families of insects beneath that
Origin Worldwide
Plants Affected Most food crops, ornamental plants, trees, and grasses
Common Remedies Horticultural oils, neem oil, AzaMax and other azdirachtin products, etc.

Types Of Scale Insects

There are about 8,000 types of these plant pests. All of these fall into the superfamily Coccoidea, but are subdivided from there into smaller family groups. Let’s go over some of the most prominent types of scale bugs and talk a bit about their similarities and differences.

Coccidae

Coccidae, ‘Pink Wax Scale’. Source: treegrow

The coccidae are a family that often secrete a waxy coating. This white waxy covering can protect them against many forms of insecticide, although any oily insecticide will likely stay on long enough to have effect.

One of the best-known in this family is Coccus viridis, also known as coffee scale or green scale. Coffee scale is a major agricultural pest in coffee crops.

Other species of wax scales include tree dwellers like the cottony maple scale (Pulvinaria innumerabilis) or the calico scale (Eulecanium cerasorum). These scales flatten themselves against tree branches to feed.

Psuedococcidae

Psuedococcidae or ‘Mealybug’. Source: davidshort

While most people don’t realize that mealybugs are a form of scale, they are. Unlike most scale, they have legs, but they seldom if ever move once they’ve located a good feeding spot. Mealybugs are common greenhouse scale pests.

Widespread throughout agricultural areas, they also attack many commercial crops.

Diaspididae

Diaspididae or ‘Armored Scale’. Source: Mollivan Jon

Over 2650 species of armored scale pests exist. Needless to say, these scales have an armor-like coating which they use to protect themselves from predators or insecticidal sprays.

One of the most stubborn examples of an armored scale is the San Jose scale, Quadraspidiotus perniciosus. This agricultural pest is widespread throughout the United States. While it was documented in the late 1800’s in San Jose, it originates from China.

In 1914, the San Jose scale was the first documented scale pest to develop resistance to insecticides.

Another major agricultural pest is the California Red Scale, Aonidiella aurantii. While its primary target is citrus trees, it also feeds on olives and other fruit, and can be found on some vegetables such as pumpkin.

Margarodidae

Margarodidae ‘Icerya purchasi’ or ‘cottony cushioned scale’. Source: gailhampshire

Ground pearls are strange-looking large scale insects. Many of them appear to be cottony or soft. Others look almost berry-like in their shape and coloration, such as the Armenian cochineal. They are larger than most other forms of scale, mostly because of their cottony exterior.

The photo above shows a variety of this scale with some ants on it, harvesting the honeydew which the scales provide.

Eriococcidae

Eriococcidae ‘sapsuckers’ being farmed by ants. Source: John Tann

One excellent example of the Eriococcidae is the wooly beech scale, Cryptococcus fagisuga. These scales look more like lumps or bumps on twigs and branches, and can be mistaken for buds on the branch. Sapsuckers and other related scales are at risk from birds and beneficial predators like ladybugs.

Now that you have an inkling of the diversity of this persnickety pest, let’s go over their life cycles. We’ll also cover where they’re most likely to be found, and some information about their preferred plants.

Life Cycle

Scale insects on oleander. Source: Scot Nelson

Most scales do not move once they’re adults, so adult females will lay eggs beneath her protective external coating. Over the space of 1-3 weeks, these scale eggs hatch into a form that’s called a crawler.

These immature scales, called crawlers, will move away from their parent. Sometimes hatched crawlers will be caught and blown to other plants by the wind, and at other times they will simply move to a different portion of the same plant.

Once they’ve found a suitable place, the remainder of the scale’s life will be lived attached in that spot. Most species of scale lose their larval legs as they mature, and they feed on the plant’s sap.

Some forms produce honeydew, a sticky secretion that draws ants or fungal diseases to the plant.

Some varieties of male scale insects have wings, but they aren’t strong fliers. Instead, the wings are used to help guide the male if it’s caught and pulled from its plant in the wind.

However, the specifics of gender greatly vary amongst scale insects. Many are hermaphroditic, and those which do have gender may reproduce asexually as well as with fertilization.

Common Habitats

Cochineal scale on cactus pad. Source: The Marmot

The majority of adult scales are immobile and permanently attached to their desired host plant. However, the variety of plants is extremely wide.

There are scales like euonymus scales which prefer a specific type of evergreen tree but will as easily attack holly, ivy, and other evergreen plants, and those will be found around those plants.

Other scales, like the cochineal shown above, will form colonies on large cactus plants. Widespread on prickly pear plants in the southwestern United States, these scales look like whitish deposits across the surface of the cactus pad.

Some forms of scale are extremely flat and hard to identify. If you see what appears to be a whitish coating on the underside of a plant leaf, you may have discovered a form of scale.

There is some correlation between the type of scale and its favored plant, but it’s not universal.

Still, armored scales tend to be more prevalent on harder plants such as trees or thick-branched foliage. Soft scales are usually on stems or leaves of ferns or other softer plant material.

What Plants Do They Like To Eat?

Heavy scale infestation on persimmon tree. Source: coniferconifer

All scale insects feed on the sap or plant juices of their host plant.

However, the range of plants affected is extremely wide. Some species prefer fruiting trees like orange, olive, or lemon. But there are species which attack a wide variety of bromeliads, flowering plants like roses, or even fruit and vegetable plants such as brassicas or beans.

Scale bugs can be found indoors or outdoors. Finding scale inside generally means that you brought an infested plant indoors. It’s easy to spread them to other houseplants, so check your plants carefully!

A plant which is suffering from scale infestation may show signs of premature leaf drop or yellowed leaves. Whitish or yellowish patches on leaves, stems, or branches is a common sign. If not treated, your plants are at risk of numerous plant diseases or branch death.

How To Get Rid Of Scale Insects

Scale colony on leaf. Source: Scot Nelson

Now that you know what the scale pest is capable of, let’s go over some ways of getting rid of them. They can be tricky to combat, because it depends on which type of scales you have.

Soft scales secrete large amounts of honeydew, which can cause the growth of sooty mold. These scales tend to be harder to spot on plants, and can be hard to treat.

Armored scales do not secrete honeydew, so mold growth is far less likely around them. They are a bit more noticeable, but their exterior tends to protect them from some insecticidal measures.

Mealybugs tend to be the easiest to control, as they have no waxy coating nor hard protective covering to protect them. However, they do reproduce quickly and can quickly become a problem.

Let’s go over some options for each type of scale now!

Remember: The best approach makes use of integrated pest management, where you attack scale in multiple ways.

Organic Control

Scale insect on leaf. Source: Mick E. Talbot

Smother the scales. Scale insects may be resistant to some pesticides (read the pesticide label to be sure), but they can’t live if they can’t breathe. Regular applications of a horticultural oil such as Bonide All-Seasons Horticultural and Dormant Oil will help.

Cover all plant surfaces with the oil in an even layer, and all life phases of scales will suffocate.

Neem oil is a godsend. Not only does the oil coat plants, but it naturally contains azdirachtin, which will slowly poison most soft scales and mealybugs. You can use it on armored scales as well, but it will work like a horticultural oil in that usage.

As a last resort, a much stronger azdirachtin product may help tip the scales in your favor (so to speak). Try using a product like AzaMax, which is derived from neem oil naturally, inside greenhouses or indoor growing areas. Even better, it works against spider mites, aphids, leafhoppers, and other pests too!

Environmental Control

Wash your plants. This sounds a bit strange, but sometimes you can control scale by washing the leaves or stems/branches with no more than water and your hands.

If they’re particularly stubborn, use an insecticidal soap such as Safer Soap to try to loosen the scale the day before, and then try again. This is particularly useful in smaller infestations.

Invite in beneficial insects that eat the crawler stage. Both ladybugs and lacewings are natural enemies and find the scale larvae quite tasty. Some species of birds will peck off adult armored scales, but they’re less likely to stick around than beneficial insects are.

Prevention Methods

Ants tending scale insects. Source: S. Rae

If you see a few scale pests, dab them with alcohol. Use a cotton swab and coat them thoroughly. Alcohol will dehydrate the pests and cause them to come off the plant.

If you do this whenever you first notice them, and follow up with soap or horticultural oil, you likely will not have major outbreaks.

Catch the problem early. Be attentive to your plants and you won’t have to go to war with scale pests.

Prune any infested branches and destroy them. If you find a single branch of a tree or bush that is infested with scale, carefully prune it away and get rid of it before they can spread. Spray down the plant thoroughly with oil sprays finish the job.

Finally, ants farm soft scale insects. Honeydew, the sticky, sweet secretion that soft scales exude, is a favorite food of some species of ants. Those ants will protect the source of their honeydew.

You can find a fascinating description of the process through the Ask A Biologist page of Arizona State University at this website.

To reduce the farming of scales, aphids, or other honeydew-producing pests by ants, you can use Tanglefoot Tangle-Trap around the trunks of trees or the base of rigid plants. The sticky surface will catch ants and prevent them from getting into the tree to protect other pests.

You can also place diatomaceous earth around the base of softer-stemmed plants and dust it on all the plant surfaces. A little ring of diatomaceous earth will deter ants from coming near. The dusting over the tops and bottoms of leaves and along the stems will deter scales from taking up residence.

Scale insect on plant stem. Source: Mick E. Talbot

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can scale insects fly?

A: … sort of. While some male scale pests do have wings, they are vestigial at best. They’re not very strong fliers. In calm conditions (such as inside a greenhouse), you might see a few wobbly flying pests around your plants, but they’re just as likely to be whiteflies.

The females and hermaphroditic scales don’t fly, and spreading of the pest is generally done when they’re in their larval crawler stage.

Q: If I scrape off scale, will it get back on my plant?

A: What you scrape off will not climb back up, because once it’s attached to a leaf, the scale pest is fixed in place for the rest of its lifespan. However, tiny little crawlers may still be on the plant.

If you opt to scrape scale from your leaves, stems, branches or trunks, be sure to follow up with a thorough spraying of horticultural oil.

The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:
Lorin Nielsen
Lifetime Gardener
Kevin Espiritu
Founder Did this article help you? × How can we improve it? × Thanks for your feedback!

We’re always looking to improve our articles to help you become an even better gardener.

While you’re here, why not follow us on Facebook and YouTube? Facebook YouTube 884 Shares

Controlling Pests On Orchid Flowers – Tips On Managing Orchid Pests

Growing orchids can be an addictive experience. These lovely flowering plants can be a bit fussy about their conditions and care, but the effort is worth it when you see the astounding blooms. There are several orchid flower pests for which to watch for that can seriously diminish the plant’s health and ability to produce the flowers for which they are known. Pests on orchid flowers may be sap feeders or chewing insects, but the damage they do can reduce plant vigor and, in some cases, even kill the plant. Identifying the villains and providing orchid pest control in a timely manner could save your plant.

Types of Pests on Orchids

Orchid flower pests are a collector’s nightmare. There are any number of nasty insects who can wreck the appearance and health of your plant. Recognizing which insect is attacking your orchid is key to managing orchid pests. Once you know which insect is causing the damage, you can successfully fight back.

Pests on orchid flowers fall into two categories: sap sucking and chewing.

Sap sucking insects remove plant sap, which is necessary for the plant to fuel itself, causing general malaise and leaf, stem and flower problems. These include:

  • Aphids are common on many types of plants. These soft-bodied insects can transmit disease and cause leaf, young shoot and flower damage.
  • Scale is harder to see but is recognized as bumps on the stems and other parts of the plant. Severe infestations cause yellowing and leaf drop.
  • Mealybugs are fuzzy, cottony looking insects that usually hide in the leaf axils. Symptoms are similar to scale.
  • Thrips are almost impossible to see and deform leaves and blossoms, while whiteflies look as their name implies and attack all growth.
  • Spider mites are also tiny but you can see their webs on the plant. Their feeding behavior reduces chlorophyll.

Chewing insects of orchids usually prey on plants grown outdoors.

  • These might be snails and slugs, whose chewing behavior leaves holes and chunks out of leaves. These pests are primarily nocturnal and you may need to wait until dark to find them. The easiest method of orchid pest control with these mollusks is to hand pick them or the use of diatomaceous earth is non-toxic and effective.
  • Caterpillars make Swiss cheese out of leaves and even eat buds. Managing orchid pests like these requires applications of Bacillus thuringiensis, a natural pesticide.
  • In rare occasions, cockroaches or grasshoppers may invade outdoor plants. Use cockroach baits in the area and bait grasshoppers with molasses.

Orchid Pest Management

There are many non-toxic methods of control that can manage these pests. Sucking insects are often just washed off the plant. Pyrethrins or horticultural oil spray are also effective.

Mitesare most active when the conditions are hot and dry. Increase humidity and, if you can, move the plant where it is cooler.

Keep all leaf and other debris cleaned up so pests don’t have hiding places. Keep orchids away from host plants such as citrus, other flowering plants, eucalyptus, beans, and taro.

The best defense is a healthy plant. Healthy plants can withstand some pest activity without significant loss of vigor. Another tip about orchid pests and management is to inspect plants daily. The sooner management begins, the better the outcome and the less damage the orchid will sustain.

Five Common Orchid Pests

Insects and their relatives cause most of the problems for orchid growers. Some of them can even transmit diseases from one plant to another. This article will discuss five of the most common orchid pests.

Aphids

Aphids are sucking insects that are some of the most problematic orchid pests. One of the signs of aphid infestation is a collection of tan-colored skins on the plant. Leaves will also become covered in honeydew and bud and flowers will become stunted or deformed. You can simply brush them away or spray them off with water.

Fungus Gnats

Fungus gnats are also common orchid pests. Their larvae grow in potting media that is too wet, warm, or decaying too quickly. To control these pests, make sure you don’t keep the potting media too wet and allow it to dry between waterings. You can also use the yellow sticky cards that are commonly used to control white flies.

Mealybugs

Some of the other types of orchid pests are mealybugs. They feed under bracts and on the roots. They reproduce throughout the year under greenhouse conditions. They cause the leaves to turn yellow and drop early. Severe infestations of mealybugs will weaken the plants and may even kill them.

Mites

Mites are also orchid pests. These microscopic animals kills the cells of the surface layer of the leaves. This causes the leaves to look silvery, especially on the bottom. There may also be yellow spots on the top of the leaves. Mites can severely weaken and disfigure plants. To combat mites, you should wash the plant thoroughly and wipe every leaf.

White flies

Some of the last common orchid pests are white flies. Like aphids, they are sucking insects but much smaller. An infestation of white flies can severely weaken your plant. They are extremely difficult to control under greenhouse conditions. The only way to control them effectively is to use insecticides.

These are some of the most common orchid pests. If you see signs of an infestation, you should do something quickly to maintain your plant’s health.

5 Crazy Things You Didn’t Know About Orchids

Mirenda is curator of “Orchids: Interlocking Science and Beauty,” an exhibit at Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History that features living orchids from the collections of the Smithsonian and the U.S. Botanic Garden.

Orchids are inextricably linked with the tropical, though what most people may not realize is that they grow nearly everywhere on Earth—in cold and warm climates, both high in the jungle canopy and hidden beneath leaf litter in a temperate forest or on a wet grassy area near your home.

Many species are critically endangered, though new discoveries on how orchids live, love and die are giving fresh hope to conserving some of the rarest and most enchanting plants on earth. A new collaborative effort, the North American Orchid Conservation Center, aims to collect, catalog and propagate native orchid species from every region of the continent for research and restoration.

Here are a few bizarre facts about orchids that may surprise you:

1. Orchids are the world’s largest plant family.

The orchid Cymbidium Mighty Tracey ‘Moon Walk’ from the Smithsonian exhibit “Orchids: Interlocking Science and Beauty.” (Photo by Michelle Z. Donahue)

Despite some species’ extreme rarity, orchids constitute around 10 percent of all plant species on the planet. Scientists know of over 25,000 species of wild orchids, and nearly 10 times that number of hybrid varieties. Hundreds of new wild species are discovered every year, Mirenda says , but sometimes only because their habitats are being plundered in the process.

2. Vanilla is an orchid.

The flower of flat-leaf vanilla “V. planifolia” (Photo by H. Zell/Wikimedia Commons)

Yep, it’s a card-carrying member of the orchid family. Two orchid species, Vanilla planifolia and the Tahiti-grown hybrid V. x tahitensis, are used for the familiar flavoring. In fact, those little brown flecks in your vanilla bean ice cream are vanilla orchid seeds.

3. Orchids pull pranks on their friends.

The butterfly mimicking flower of the orchid Psychopsis Mariposa ‘Mountain’ in the Smithsonian exhibit “Orchids: Interlocking Science and Beauty.” (Photo by Michelle Z. Donahue)

Orchids are unmatched in their ability to mimic other things in their environment, with the sole goal of coaxing helpers into spreading their pollen. Inside their bag of tricks: sporting flowers that appear to be a female pollinating insect to lure male insects to “mate” with the flower; or promising non-existent nectar to a foraging bee, which then flies off in disappointment only to be tricked again a few yards away; and producing a female pheromone that entices an unsuspecting insect to visit, resulting in pollination of the orchid. Many orchid species require a visit from a specific pollinator, and have evolved highly specific mimicry tactics to accomplish this feat.

4. Some orchids have value as medicines.

The orchid “Bletilla striata” is widely used in traditional Chinese medicine. (Flickr photo by Autan)

Traditional Chinese medicine uses dozens of native Chinese orchid species in preparations to treat a range of maladies. The orchid Dendrobium catenatum, for example, is used in teas and soups as a tonic to protect singers’ voices, and is also believed to help prevent cancer and boost the immune system. The popularity of orchids in traditional medicinal preparations has resulted in a drastic decline of many native Asian orchids.

5. Orchids eat fungus.

The dust-like seeds of the U.S. native showy orchid, “Galearis spectabilis,” from the collections of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. (Photo by Michelle Z. Donahue)

Orchid seeds are tiny—so small that they can’t germinate or grow without the help of a special type of mycorrhizal fungus. Each type of orchid needs particular fungi to germinate; the microscopic seedlings allow the fungus to grow into some of their root cells, where they digest it. Orchids may rely solely on this fungal nutrition source for years before they grow large enough to photosynthesize; some orchids never produce green leaves and live off their fungi for their entire lives.

Scientists still know very little about this relationship. North America’s largest collection of orchid mycorrhizal fungi—500 cultures—is housed at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Md. Researchers there plan to expand this fungus bank to include as many varieties as possible.

Tags: biodiversity, Center for Tropical Forest Science, Chesapeake Bay, conservation, conservation biology, endangered species, fungi, insects, National Museum of Natural History, orchids, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

Image: iStock

Edible flowers are a bit old school these days. It’s long been established that plant blooms can and has in fact been used in various ancient cuisines worldwide. It’s also been gaining a lot of traction in present times, with more daring chefs and inventive kitchen superstars whipping up fresh and fancy edible flower dishes to entice the adventurous foodie in all of us.

What’s surprising is the growing list of edible flowers being revealed to us as we do our due diligence. In our previous articles, we’ve written about our favorite edible flowers, such as:

  • Hibiscus – Added fresh in teas and on garden salads
  • Roses – Used in salads, desserts, spreads, jam, butter, and fruit punches
  • Peonies – Sought by the Chinese to infuse in teas and drinking water
  • Marigolds – Tastes like saffron, it’s used as a food coloring and a spice
  • Sunflower – Boiled or roasted like an artichoke
  • Chrysanthemum – Featured as an ingredient in Asian dishes, such as Chop Suey or Shingiku

And the list goes on…

Are Orchids Edible?

If you adore orchids like we do, this has probably crossed your mind already. Can you actually eat orchid flowers?

The answer is yes. Orchid plants are not only sought by many because of their disarming beauty. They have been used by many cultures in Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Americas for their medicinal values and edible quality.

The ancient Greeks have a strong belief that eating the bulb of orchid plants can boost their sexual vigor and fertility.

Orchids, particularly Dendrobium species, have been widely used in preparations of Japanese and Chinese herbal medicine for treatment of indigestion, headache, convulsions, and cancer.

Delicious Recipes Using Orchids

Orchids, specifically the flower petals, are reportedly gives off that fresh and crisp flavor similar to leafy vegetables, such as endive or watercress.

ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture has enumerated a variety yummy dishes orchids have been used in different parts of the world.

  • Asian cuisine – Soft-cane dendrobium orchids, which are native to many countries in Asia. It’s used in stir-fry, sauce recipes, and boiled tea.
  • Orchid Tempura – Thais roll dendrobium orchid flowers in egg and flour batter and then deep fry them in cooking oil.
  • Orchid salad and orchid candy – In Hawaii, they use orchid flowers as a featured ingredient for fresh salads and coat them in sugar for dessert.
  • Wild orchid drink – In Turkey, salep powder, which is made from dried tubers and Orchis, a genus of wild orchids. They mix salep powder with hot milk and other flavorful spices like nutmeg and cinnamon.
  • Orchid ice cream – Otherwise known as dondurma, this chewy Turkish ice cream is another sweet concoction made of salep.

Like many edible flowers, orchids are also generally used as an appetizing garnish for drinks and salad dishes.

Vanilla from Orchids

Ari Novy, the deputy executive director of U.S. Botanic Gardens in Washington, says vanilla is the most popular edible orchid. These orchids are native to Central and South America. But today, Madagascar leads the production of vanilla beans.

Yes, the very vanilla, which flavors the delightful desserts we crave for, comes from orchids. They are extracted from vine-like orchids of the same name grows up to 30 feet long. The Vanilla planifolia orchid variety is the only orchid propagated for industrial food production.

Sources:

Edible Orchids

The Many Uses of Orchids

Not only are orchids beautiful to look at, but many orchids have edible uses that you may not know about. In fact, edible orchids have been ingested in a variety of forms for medicinal purposes for a very long time. Ancient Greeks believed that consuming orchid tubers could increase fertility and traditional Chinese medicine has made use of different types of orchids to help with eyesight and even treat cancer.

Dendrobiums

Orchids are not typically consumed in their natural state but rather the flowers or canes are dried and then steeped in hot water to create a tea. In Asian cuisine, Dendrobium blooms are often used as garnish and occasionally added in a stir-fry. The flowers can also be battered and deep fried like tempura. Certain varieties of Dendrobium can irritate the stomach, so be sure to exercise caution when trying them yourself. Dendrobium blooms are also often used as decorations on cakes and cupcakes.

Salep

A very popular product made from orchids is called salep, which is made from the Orchis tubers by drying them out and grinding them down into a powder. This powder is popular for making desserts, bread, and drinks. The most popular use of salep is to make a hot beverage that is often found in Turkey, Greece, England, and Germany and is also found in Asia and India. The powder is mixed with hot milk and then flavored with a little cinnamon, nutmeg, or ginger. Because the drink is so popular, it is now illegal to export the powder in order to help conserve the wild orchid population.

Orchid Ice Cream

Another food product made from salep is called dondurma which is also known as Turkish orchid ice cream. This particular ice cream is not like “typical” ice cream but rather very chewy and does not melt. It is often compared to saltwater taffy. The ice cream is made with milk, sugar, salep, and mastic (provides the chewy texture) and is kneaded either by hand or in a mixer. The ice cream is very commonly seen in Turkey and also in Greece where it’s referred to as Dudurmas or Kaimaki.

It is not recommended that you do not eat any part of an orchid until you do sufficient research and find out if an orchid is edible and how it should be properly prepared for consumption. Most of the houseplant orchids that you can find in stores aren’t the types that are edible.

Next Steps: Where do you go from here?

A couple options:

#1 – More Free Orchid Tips!
At a minimum, I strongly recommending signing up for our orchid tips newsletter (it’s free!). That’ll give you some additional (more detailed) step-by-step tips you can start using with your Orchids right away…

#2 – Get Access to ALL My Orchid Articles…
If you’d like to learn everything you need to know about orchid care (ALL types of orchids) we also have something called the Orchids Made Easy Green Thumb Club.

The Green Thumb Club includes a number of different benefits – including weekly lessons on all different orchid care topics delivered to you in a special, password-protected members area. You also get the opportunity to get YOUR actual questions answered in my weekly “Ask The Orchid Guy” column, which you can check out here.

The Green Thumb Club costs less than a meal at McDonald’s – and ALSO includes all sorts of ADDITIONAL benefits, including exclusive discounts at orchid suppliers from 20-40% off as well access to our “orchid diagnosis tool” which helps you identify what problem might be plaguing your plant.

Because the club is backed by a full 100% money-back guarantee for a full 30 days, if after checking it out you decide that it’s not for you or that you didn’t get value you out of what you learned – no problem! Simply send us an email to let me know, and you’ll receive a fast and courteous refund. Put it this way: If you’re not happy, I’m not happy!

(By the way, this here will give you access to 50% off the cost of membership. A little “gift” for reading this article all the way to the end :-))

Take Care,

Ryan “The Orchid Guy” 🙂

IMPORTANT: To learn everything you need to know about caring for your orchids, if you haven’t already I strongly recommend signing up for the “Orchid Care Tips & Secrets Newsletter” my wife and I publish by clicking here.

It’s completely free – and the best part? You can even choose the type of information you’d like to receive (reblooming tips, basics of orchid care, etc.) Join over 20,000 fellow orchid enthusiasts young and old and sign up for our free orchid care newsletter today! 🙂

Hybrid Connect Error : Connector could not be found

Psst… Hey, did you enjoy this article or have a question? I’d love to hear from you! Please click LIKE, and leave a comment below to let me know!

The title of this article might appear odd to some people who have so far known orchids merely for their sublime beauty and elegance. Can you eat an orchid is a question that can flummox any ordinary individual who is not aware of its edible characteristics. You must have seen rose petals sprayed all over the birthday cake in a wedding or a birthday party but never thought about orchid as an edible flower.

Some species of orchids are edible

Are orchids edible? The answer to this question is both yes and no because not all species of orchids are edible. But many species are edible and thus can be used for garnishing a recipe or even for making a whole recipe out of the petals of this beautiful flower. Although it is heart-breaking for many to see these pretty flowers being eaten, there are many individuals who love the flavour of orchids that they describe as a mix between endive and cucumber.

Orchids have been used to make medicines

Not many people know that orchids have been used for medicinal purposes since time immemorial. Ancient Greeks strongly believed that tubers of orchids could help in increasing fertility in human beings. In traditional Chinese medicine, orchid parts have been used freely to make medicines for the treatment of diseases of eyes. They have even used orchids to treat cancers of several types.

Do not try to consume orchid in its natural state

For those who do not know, you cannot eat an orchid in its natural state. The flowers of orchid are dried first and then steeped in hot water to make its tea. In Asian cuisine, orchid petals are sometimes used for garnishing of some dishes. They are also added to stir fry in a few recipes. Some people like to fry the battered petals of orchids and add them to their favourite recipes. The thing to remember with orchids is that some of their species are not edible and they can irritate your stomach.


One product made from orchid blooms that has become very popular is called salep. Tubers of orchids (Orchis militaris and Orchis mascula) are crushed and dried to make a powder. This powder is then used to make bread, desserts, and drinks. The powder called salep is added to hot milk and then cinnamon and ginger are added to make a delicious drink. This drink is popular in many countries like Germany, UK, Greece, Syria and especially in Turkey.

Can you eat an orchid?

Orchids?

http://www.thinktheearth.net/thinkdaily/news/news-detail-356.shtml states:
Edible orchids!?
2005/07/18 18:12 47 (GMT)
Cool Chai??Asia
Orchid farmers in Singapore have recently began to conduct cooking classes using orchids, introducing stir-fried orchids and orchid sauces. Not only are orchids edible, but also gardeners say that it is a source of fiber and vitamin C. So what does it taste like? Opinions vary; some say it is somewhat sweet, others say it tastes like tannin or raw chives.
People in Hawaii have been making salad dishes, cooking orchids and scallops together or have made sugar coated orchid candies since the 1960s. In reality, none of the orchids are poisonous, so all orchids are edible; but orchids grown as food is more desirable, and at least one month is necessary to completely wash off all the pesticides

Here is a summary on orchids as food.
A word of caution, make sure they were not sprayed with toxic chemicals.
Dendrobiums have been used as a vegetable in Asia.
Jumellea leaves are brewed for tea.
In Mexico the pseudobulbs of Laelia superbiens are macerated, flavored and made into confections and shaped like skulls and other objects for All Saints’ Day.
In some parts of Brazil the seedpods of Leptotes bicolor are cured and produce a flovoring similar to vanilla which is used to flavor
ice cream.
The tubers of Australian terrestrial orchids and pseudobulbs of Dendrobium speciosum were once roasted & eaten by various Koori tribes in Australia
Starchy tubers of North Amercian lady’s slippers were once eaten.
Chinese are said to use the old dendrobium canes for soup.
In fact here is enough orchid eating going on even today that it has prompted an edible orchid conservation group.
“In the southern Africa region (Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi), the tubers of the orchids have for a long time been used as a source of food. The tubers are traded locally within the three countries, where they are used in the preparation of a meatless source.
Orchid farmers in Singapore have recently began to conduct cooking classes using orchids, introducing stir-fried orchids and orchid sauces. Not only are orchids edible, but also gardeners say that it is a source of fiber and vitamin C. So what does it taste like? Opinions vary; some say it is somewhat sweet, others say it tastes like tannin or raw chives.
People in Hawaii have been making salad dishes, cooking orchids and scallops together or have made sugar coated orchid candies since the 1960s. “
Ref: New Page 1
However, the rattailed Oncidium ceboleta has been reported to be used as a hallucinogen when stronger stuff was not available. So check before using.
I have bought those edible flowers by infinitieherbs and found them to contain nasturtiums, pansies and occasionally a type of daisy.

Scale Insects on Orchids

In the home orchid collection, scales are acquired by your plants in some combination of three methods. The most common method of acquiring scales is by purchasing an infested plant. On plants at home scales are easily transmitted from infested to clean plants when your plants touch each other and the crawlers to move from plant to plant. The final method is colonisation of your plants by windblown during the summer when your plants are outdoors, but it can also occur indoors in greenhouses and sunrooms.

Life Cycle

Scale insects have a three-stage life history: egg, larva (or nymph), and adult. Females lay the eggs, with the eggs usually retained in the body and under the hard scale when the female dies. These hatch into the mobile nymphs, called crawlers. The crawlers are the active stage that can move between plants. After finding a suitable place for feeding, the crawler will settle and begin feeding, and transform into the next nymphal stage. At this point it begins to form the hard protective “scale” covering. The covering enlarges as the insect grows. Nymphs often have a light yellowish scale, which darkens to tan or brown as the insect matures to an adult.

Management

Scale management is usually a protracted and serious effort, and rarely much fun. Light infestations restricted to one or a few plants can usually be treated with household products rather than concentrated insecticides. When possible, immediately isolate infested plants from others to prevent the scales from moving amongst them.

Because the life cycle of scales can be so short, in order to bring a serious problem under control you will need to do a treatment every 2-5 weeks, depending on the life cycle period of your particular problem scale species. Consequently, the key to scale control is persistence.

Management methods that are the least toxic to people, pets, and plants, are the most time-consuming and laborious. Insecticidal methods, including horticultural oils, soaps, and synthetic insecticides are progressively more toxic and more expensive, but less work. Regardless of method or chemical used, you must remain vigilant and expect to make at least 2-3 applications 10-16 days apart.

Because of plant cost, personal attachment to orchids by owners, and the overriding desire to avoid insecticides whenever possible a number of effective “home remedies” for scale control are available. Be aware that non-insecticidal treatments may not be highly effective for elimination of scales. Thus, they should be viewed as controls, not eradicators. Also, many common “home chemicals” are extremely toxic to humans, pets, and plants even in diluted forms, often being proportionately more toxic than the feared insecticides.

Rubbing Alcohol

Probably the most popular home remedy is to swab and daub plants with a cotton bud or ball of cotton dipped in isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. Do not use other alcohols, such as ethanol or methanol that will penetrate the plant tissues and cause considerable damage! On hard-leaved plants, gentle rubbing with the fingers or a soft infants toothbrush is effective, with or without the alcohol massage. Remove all scales, large and small. Afterwards, you will still need to repeat the alcohol treatment to remove the tiny yellowish spots, which are the recently hatched crawlers. Pay particular attention to the midrib, other veins, and leave edge areas. Closely monitor your plants to get an idea of the life cycle of the particular species of scale that is your problem, but expect to repeat treatment against the immature every one or two weeks.

A potential problem with alcohol treatment that is occasionally reported may be chilling of the plant. The rapid evaporation of alcohol cools the plant tissues. Especially with air movement that increases evaporative cooling, this chilling is suspected of over-cooling tissues and creating zones of dead cells that can become necrotic with bacterial or fungal infestation. On warm days consider wiping any residual alcohol with a tissue instead of permitting it to evaporate off the plant.

Final Consideration

Whenever using oils, soaps, and harsher chemicals, be thorough, change solutions frequently, and never ever use more than a minimum concentration of mixture. Too, never use chemicals prophylactically, that is do not routinely use chemicals as a preventative as it is a waste of chemical (and money!) and such use allows resistant scales to develop. Finally, keep up the manal removal of all scales, if possible. Removing the egg laying adults is as important as killing the nymphs. Again, you need to monitor the cycling of your scales, this time to optimise spray effect and minimize total number of sprays.

Paul J. Johnson, PH.D.

Insect Research Collection

South Dakota State University

Box 2207A, Brookings, SD 57007, USA

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *