Learn the Language of Your Orchid Leaves

Updated March 20, 2013 by Carl Harrison


When we look at an orchid, we are amazed by their beautiful delicate flower and their exotic appearance. However, perhaps the most amazing thing about this plant is not the flowers, but its’ leaves.

This part of the plant can tell a story. They will tell the observer if the flower is healthy, receiving adequate amount of light and water. They will even tell you if the plant is too cold or hot. To fully understand an orchid, you need to understand the language of the foliage.

Relationship Between Light and Leaflets:

The exact light requirement of these plants will depend on the variety that you have. However, if you’re not certain of your variety, all you need to do is carefully monitor the blades of your plant. The first thing that you need to know is the normal appearance for the plant. In ideal conditions the foliage of the plant should be light, bright green in color. Any variation in this color could indicate that they are missing one of its’ basic requirements.

Dark Green Leaves:

Dark green petals are a sign that your plant is not getting enough light. They may still appear to be healthy, and new growth may be occurring; however in low light conditions your plant may not flower.

To meet their light requirements, move them to a sunnier area, supplement the natural light with florescent light or open up those curtains.

Sunscreen Required

If they are turning yellow or have a red hue, then ouch, your orchid may be getting sunburn. The easiest solution to this problem is to reduce the amount of light that your plant is receiving. Although most of them like the sunlight, they prefer the light to be filtered. Add a light curtain to the room to filter the light, limit the amount of artificial light, or find an area in your home which offers a bit more shade.

Another hint to finding the right amount of light is by looking at the types of leaflets that your orchids have. Ones with thick, leathery leaflets with a wax like covering tend to like a bit more light. If your flower has long, thin, blades it may require a shadier environment.

Wrinkly Orchid Leaves are Not a Sign of Aging:

If the foliage of your plant are wrinkly this is a sign that you are not meeting the watering needs of your plant. The plant could be getting either too much or too little water. So how will you know what to do? Check the roots of the plants. If you have an expansive root system, and they seem to be dry, firm and white or tan in color, you may need to water them. If the roots are mushy, you’ve over-watered your plant and its experiencing root rot. Trim off the rotted parts, remove as much growing medium as possible and replant the plant in dry growing medium.

Hint: When watering any of them avoid putting water on its foliage. This part of the plant does not like to get wet. If the water accidentally splashes on them, dry them off right away.

It’s Too Cold in Here:

Have you ever seen foliage with sections that are black and rotted? Some assume that rotting means over-watering, but in this situation, that is not the case. The orchid is frost bitten. This could happen from being too close to a cold window or a dramatic drop in temperature. If you notice that the temperature around your plant is becoming chilly, remove the plant from this area. Cooler temperatures can seriously damage or even destroy your plant.

Disease and Insects:

If you see any other types of distortions to the leaflets of your plant, these may be early signals of a disease or an insect problem. Bring a photograph of your plant to your local garden center, and they will help you to diagnose if the plant has contracted a specific illness.

The leaves are natural story tellers. When maintaining these organisms, closely observe this part of the plant and try to decipher its’ individualized story. No two plants are exactly alike, but by understanding their communication method we can help each one flourish. With these simple tips you should be able to determine what your flower needs and what is ailing your beautiful plant.


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