What is Pleione?

Niki Foster

Pleione is a genus of miniature orchids with about 20 species, commonly called peacock orchids. Other common names include Indian crocus, Himalayan crocus, glory of the East, and windowsill orchid. Pleione orchids take their name from a sea nymph in Greek mythology, the wife of Atlas and mother of the Pleiades. Peacock orchids are popular houseplants and are relatively easy to grow and propagate.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

Pleione orchids feature a fringed labellum or lip, a specialized tubular petal in orchids that serves to attract insect pollinators, and to provide a landing pad for them. The flowers of the orchid can be white, yellow, pink, or lavender, while the labellum is often paler and may be spotted or patterned. The flowers are native to the foothills and mountains of India and mainland Southeast Asia, and most are adapted to cold temperatures, frost, and dry soil, with some species growing on rocks or trees. Species in colder climates bloom in the spring and belong to the Humiles section of Pleione, while those in warmer climates bloom in the fall and belong to the Pleione section.

Pleione orchids grow from bulbs, and may be expensive and difficult to find despite their popularity. The bulbs have a short shelf life, and the plants are not sold once they have begun to bloom. Many species are of vulnerable conservation status. There are many natural and cultivated Pleione hybrids as well. If well taken care of, peacock orchids can last a long time, bloom repeatedly, and even multiply.

Pleione bulbs must be purchased during the late fall or early winter, from November to January, as many plants begin blooming by mid-February. They should be planted in January in a quickly draining soil including moss, wood chips, beech leaves, and bits of charcoal. The plants should also be kept very cold, even in temperatures approaching freezing. After they begin to bloom in February, they can be regularly watered and fertilized with a weak concentration.

After blooming, peacock orchids can be kept outside, such as on a windowsill, as long as they are cool and in the shade, and not allowed to dry out. The flowers will die during the year's first frost, and the pots should be kept dry during the dormant period. It is important to use water without much chlorine or other chemicals, as the plants can be sensitive to chemicals. Rain water is the best option.

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