All About Cool-Climate Orchids

Use this practical guide to care for and cultivate the popular Disa orchids.

 Courtesy of Fox Chapel Publishing

As the term implies, cool-growing orchids originate in temperate climates and at high elevations, where they’re frequently cooled by cloud cover, but they also do well in warmer conditions. 

One such group of orchids is that of the genus Disa, which grow naturally in the mountainous regions of South Africa’s Western Cape province, in particular on Table Mountain in Cape Town. Here, the plants experience cool winds year-round, with cold rain and occasional snowfalls in winter. Summer temperatures are high, but the plants’ roots are kept cool by fresh mountain streams. Provided they’re protected from frost, they can survive in temperatures of 43 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit without risk of damage.

Relatively new to the cultivated orchid scene, Disas, until recently, were noted for being difficult to grow. They’re very distinctive, with vibrant colors, long-lasting flowers, and a triangular shape that makes them look nothing like a typical orchid.

Disa uniflora (syn. Disa grandiflora) is the most widely grown Disa species, and is only found on Cape Town’s Table Mountain and surrounding areas. Although the name uniflora suggests that the plant should only produce one flower, the species doesn’t have a single-flowered stem. Disas are generally small in stature, while the flowering stems can reach more than 3 feet in height. Many hybrids are available that easily and quickly mature from seed. Colors vary from simple pinks to vibrant reds, golden-yellows, and sunny-orange hues.

In the wild, the plants grow along small rivers and cold streams, making their home in the roots of reeds, which provide thick mats of tangled fibers in which the Disas embed their roots.

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