Habenaria orchids, fascinating flowers – care for them well

Habenaria orchids

The Habenaria genus numbers over 800 orchid species from tropical and sub-tropical regions of the globe. Most exist in Asia, South America, and Africa.

These rare and fascinating Habenaria orchids are considered difficult to grow. Luckily, with proper care, their needs are met and they thrive.

Key Habenaria orchid facts

Habenaria ciliolaris - Eye-Lash Habenaria
Habenaria ciliolaris – Eye-Lash

Botanical nameHabenaria
Common name – rein or bog orchid
Origin – Asia, South America, Africa

Type – ground-based
Bearing – upright
Blooming – summer
Flower color – white, green, yellow (depending on the species)

Exposure – diffuse light
Soil – airy, peaty, well-draining
Water needs – high

Propagation – division

Botanical description of Habenaria orchids

Habenaria rhodocheila - Red-Lipped Habenaria
Habenaria rhodocheila – Red-Lipped

Most Habenaria are tuber ground orchids with fleshy roots and upright stems that are sometimes slender, sometimes thick.

The tuber is the only part of the plant that survives during dormancy.

Deciduous leaves are either clustered around the base of the plant, forming a rosette, or unfurl at various heights along the stem.

Flowers are generally rather small, resupinate (meaning inverted) and are white, green or yellowish depending on the species and variety. Blooming sets in along a tall flowering scape. Petals and the dorsal sepal overlap and form a hood atop the flower. The labellum bears a spike, and usually three thin lobes of varying lengths. The two mallet-like protrusions on the stigma are typical of the Habenaria genus.

Growing and caring for Habenaria orchids

Watering is the single most important factor; it changes with each season.


Habenaria radiata - Egret Flower
Habenaria radiata – Egret

To properly grow a Habenaria orchid, the most important factor is watering: it must be perfect! Indeed, Asian species grow together with the monsoon. Bulbs lie dormant in the soil (hard and cracked) and then sprout at the beginning of spring when rain softens the ground. After that, these Habenaria are subjected to constant moisture until the middle of summer.

As a result, it’s critical to ensure a constantly moist substrate during the entire growing and blooming season. When the blooming is over, keep water regularly, but let the substrate dry out somewhat before watering again. Leaves start to wilt after a while: this is the sign to stop watering completely. Repot tuber in a dry mix.

During dormancy, Habenaria requires virtually no water at all. From February to March, check weekly for new sprouts: they show that regular watering is needed again.

Note: if by mid-April your orchid hasn’t yet started growing, mist the substrate occasionally.


Habenaria medusae - Medusa orchid
Habenaria medusae – Medusa orchid

For Habenaria orchids, repotting thus takes place after the blooming, when the plant enters dormancy.

Note that tubers are still growing and storing nutrients for the next growth season.

Consequently, don’t cut dead leaves away prematurely. On a practical level, these leaves will let you remember which side of the tuber is “up” when you repot it.


Habenaria hate dwelling in sitting water, so you must grow them in an airy and well-draining substrate. Best go for a blend of heath, soil mix, rich garden soil and sand.

Exposure and location

Habenaria grandiforiformis - single-leaf habenaria
H. grandiforiformis – single-leaf

Habenaria orchids need moderate shade and diffuse light.

  • They must never be in direct sun.
  • The spot you put them in must also be well ventilated.

On average, Habenaria require:

  • day temperatures in the 80-90°F range (27-34°C),
  • night-time temperatures between 60 and 70°F (15-22°C).

This depends on season and species.


During the growth phase, Habenaria orchids need weekly fertilizing with:

  • high-nitrogen fertilizer from spring to the middle of summer;
  • high-phosphorus fertilizer from the end of summer to fall.

Reduce or even stop fertilizing altogether until new shoots appear in spring.

Image credits (edits Gaspard Lorthiois):
CC BY 2.0: Motohiro Sunouchi
CC BY 4.0: luluchouette
CC BY-NC 4.0: enahmat, jodyhsieh
CC BY-SA 2.0: 阿橋 HQ