What is Calanthe?

B. Turner

Calanthe is a genus of plants that includes more than 100 species. Plants in the calanthe genus are native to tropical regions of Asia and Africa, and include many exotic orchids and flowering species. These plants include both deciduous and evergreen species, though most gardeners are more familiar with the deciduous plants because of their brilliant and rare blooms. When these tropical plants are grown outside of their native areas, most require indoor cultivation to achieve the required growing conditions.

Plants in the calanthe genus are native to tropical regions of Asia and Africa.
Plants in the calanthe genus are native to tropical regions of Asia and Africa.

Deciduous species of this plant feature exotic flowers during spring or summer, but lose their leaves during the colder parts of the year. Gardeners must maintain the plant and remove dead leaves year-round to keep it alive. While deciduous calanthe require plenty of water during times of growth or bloom, they also require a dry period during winter when growth is limited.

Evergreen calanthe keep their leaves throughout all four seasons, but generally don't offer the exotic blooms found on deciduous species. Most are small in size like a shrub, and may grow out to act as ground-covering instead of growing up. They require regular watering year-round, as well as routine care. Evergreen species typically don't require a dry period during the winter months like deciduous varieties. Some of these evergreen species may be better able to adapt to non-native growing conditions than flowering calanthe.

Most calanthe plants grow best in moderate light or shade, and ideal temperature range for the plant varies by species. In their natural habitat, these plants are often grown in wooded areas, which provide shade from the harsh sun. When growing calanthe indoors, or in areas outside of the tropical climate zone, gardeners should try to simulate the soil found in their natural growing conditions. The soil should be mixed with leaves, peat, wood waste, or sand to mimic the conditions of the forest floor.

Outside of Asia and Africa, many gardeners choose hardy species of this plant to maximize growth. The calanthe discolor is one of the hardiest and most common species in North America, and is known for its exotic purple and white blossoms. Calanthe striata offers beautiful striped leaves, as well as yellow orchid-like blooms during the summer months. Several hybrid species offer exotic flowers that are better adapted to non-native conditions than the natural species. For example, the calanthe reflexa features bright pink blossoms well-suited to growing conditions in much of North America and Europe.

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