Peristeria elata, also known as the Holy Ghost Orchid or the Dove Orchid, has captured the imaginations of people all over the world with its tall spikes of fragrant white flowers. The plant is the national flower of Panama and is treasured by collectors. Its popularity, though, has actually imperiled the plant in the wild: Peristeria elata has been gathered almost to the point of extinction in its natural habitat. Orchid enthusiasts have successfully cultivated the plant in nurseries, though, and specimens are now widely available to collectors. By purchasing your P. elata from a trusted grower and growing your own, you can help decrease the demand for illegally collected plants. Here’s how to do it.
Background and Appearance
The Holy Ghost Orchid gets its name from the tiny shape of a dove in flight that appears in the center of its blooms. The word “Peristeria” comes from the Greek word for “little dove,” and “elata” from the Latin word meaning “high” or “lofty.”
P. elata can be found growing in the wild in Panama, Columbia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Venezuela. It’s an epiphytic plant that grows on the roots of trees on the fringes of hardwood forests, and its roots are often covered by moss and leaf mould. The plant puts out large, flat, ridged leaves that grow from softball-sized pseudobulbs, and the flower spikes that emerge from mature pseudobulbs can grow up to four feet tall. Flowers are small and are generally white, and the throat of each bloom is speckled with purple. The flowers are extremely fragrant.
Holy Ghost orchids should be placed in pots that have one or more holes in their bottoms to allow adequate drainage. Different styles of pots have different advantages, but consider using clear, plastic pots for your orchid. Clear pots allow you to monitor the health of your plant from the tips of its leaves to the ends of its roots, and the extra sunlight the media absorbs helps prevent the plant from staying too wet.
Because the Holy Ghost Orchid is an epiphyte, be sure to use potting media that drains thoroughly and provides adequate air circulation. Carter and Holmes notes that some growers successfully grow their orchids in moss, but there is plenty of room for experimentation with different medias. Any media that allows your P. elata to be watered 4-5 times a week during the hottest part of the year is appropriate, provided that it dries in a reasonable period of time. Possible medias include mixes of moss, bark, perlite, charcoal, and other freely-draining media. You can experiment to see which media mix best suits your needs.
Sufficient light is critical to keeping your orchid healthy. When considering where to place your Holy Ghost Orchid, consider the plant’s natural habitat: when it’s growing in the wild, P. elata gets dappled sunlight during the spring, summer and fall. During the winter, the trees the orchid grows beneath lose their leaves and it receives full sun. Since the Holy Ghost Orchid likes strong sunlight, consider placing it beneath a tree or on an east-facing porch or patio. Plants have also been successfully grown under lights.
Winter Rest Period
For Holy Ghost Orchids to thrive, growers need to imitate its natural growth cycles as closely as possible. In its natural habitat, P. elata goes through a definite winter rest period, and providing your plant with conditions that mimic that rest period is absolutely critical to keeping your plant healthy and to encourage blooms. Once you have noticed that your plant’s period of active growth has stopped, gradually dial back the amount of food and water it receives to the bare minimum. Your plant’s pseudobulbs will shrivel markedly during this period but don’t be alarmed: pseudobulbs will plump up again once watering begins in the spring. Plants should receive only enough water to keep the pseudobulbs from becomingtoo severely withered and should not receive any fertilizer at all. During this period, keep your plant in very strong sunlight and allow it to experience night-temperatures of down to 50 F. Keeping your plant in these conditions during the winter will prompt it to produce flowers in the spring. Rest periods generally start when new growth stops in mid- to late-November, and they end in mid- to late-March.