Spotlight: Aerangis biloba

I am excited to bring you a spotlight post on one of my favourite orchids – the Aerangis biloba. In this post, I cover its growth and bloom cycle along with the care I provide, to ensure it’s successful blooming.

The Aerangis biloba ticks all the right boxes for an orchid hobbyist. It is compact, has a lovely foliage, bears beautiful white blooms, is hardy and needs very little care. At least, this has been my experience. I bought the orchid in July 2021 as a midsize plant. I mounted it on cork bark and it loved its new home. It produced new roots that hugged the cork and 11 months later, voila, it gave me blooms. I was super-thrilled at my success.

Aerangis biloba in bloom

Of course, it has a lot to do with the tropical climate of Mumbai, which is warm and humid throughout the year, and is therefore ideally suited for these warm-growing type of orchids. However, I have seen people growing these under controlled conditions in their indoor setups even in diverse climatic conditions, and they grow pretty well and bloom.

The Aerangis biloba, is hard to come by as it is relatively expensive. So if you come across it, it’s worth making it a part of your collection. Just provide the right conditions for it to grow and bloom, and it will make you very happy.

A little about its native habitat – The Aerangis biloba originates from the western and central parts of Africa. It thrives in warm and humid conditions. It grows well in dappled light and does not like being exposed to bright sunlight. The orchid thrives in 80% humidity, but is hardy enough to withstand occasional drying up, say like when you are on a holiday for a week (at least, this has been my experience). It becomes a little dehydrated, but bounces right back when it gets hydrated. Being epiphytic, it prefers being mounted on bark, but can grow equally well when potted.

A must-have in your collection

The Aerangis biloba is a compact and slow growing orchid. So it fits right in if you have a small grow space like mine. It is monopodial, meaning it grows like the Phalaenopsis or Vanda orchids on a single stem or axis. The leaves are elongated, dark green in colour and have an interesting mix of reticulate and parallel veining, which makes them very attractive. They also have dark spots, which are naturally produced in response to the amount of light it receives. So don’t get worried if the leaves develop them. The leaves are elongated and end in an attractive two lobed tip, a characteristic from which this species gets its name–biloba.

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As for its culture and care, the Aerangis biloba grows well on wooden mounts as well as in organic media such as bark chips with some moisture retentive sphagnum moss or cocoa chips. This orchid loves a good wet-dry cycle. It does not like to be in a continuously moist environment. I mounted mine almost two years back on a cork mount. It established itself well in no time. I added a generous amount of moss to maintain humidity levels. However, I did notice that the new roots did not like staying in the damp moss. They moved away from the moss and attached themselves directly onto the cork bark. I regularly fertilise the orchid with NPK 20:20:20, seaweed kelp, as well as with Calcium nitrate and Epsom salt during periods of active growth. I minimise fertilising in winter since there is a slowdown in growth.

The orchid continues to grow slowly by producing new leaves all year round, even when it is in bloom. After a dormant period in winter when growth slows down, the orchid regains active growth and develops pendant racemes or spikes that shoot out from the axial buds on the stem in spring. The spike begins developing buds all through summer, that is the months of April and May.

Buds developing on the Aerangis biloba

Once the spike grows, nubbings begin appearing on the spike. Interestingly, the buds at the tip of the spike begin forming first followed by the bud formation towards the base of the spike. Once they are big enough, the tips separate out from the spike and tiny spurs are visible. The buds begin swelling up and the spurs elongate as temperature and humidity increase to very high levels, causing the clouds to saturate.

Now, here’s the thing that amazes me — the orchid opens its first blooms when Mumbai receives its first monsoon shower. Maybe it’s the humidity saturation that finally helps the blooms open up. As opposed to the growth habit of other orchids, this one blooms first from the tip of the pendent spike, and the blooms towards the base of the spike open last.

The blooms are white in colour with perfect bilaterally symmetrical lanceolate petals and sepals. The white centre gives it a beautiful, pristine look, its beauty undiluted by strong colours. The only colour is a subtle peach tint at the tips of the sepals. The spur is also peach coloured, which adds a lovely contrast and breaks away from making the appearance of the blooms too stark. The spur is thin and transparent too. If you look closely, you can see the level of nectar in it, which is an ample reward for a moth/butterfly with a long proboscis that comes along to suck the nectar and in the process, pollinates the flower.

A word of caution. The petals are thin and delicate. So avoid wetting them or exposing them to rain as they do not dry out fast during the monsoons. The blooms, on being wet, are prone to developing botyritis, a bacterial/fungal rot that appears as wet and dark patches on the petals and sepals.

The flowers typically last for around ten to fifteen days. Last year, I had around five blooms that bloomed successfully. This year, the numbers increased. I have a total of thirteen blooms.

The orchid developed two spikes this year, but only one of them developed and the other aborted due to extreme dry summer conditions. The dry and warm spell has extended for almost four months, impacting the health of some of my orchids. On hindsight, I realise I couldn’t keep up with the humidity requirement of the Aerangis biloba. Next year , I am planning on giving it a temporary superficial padding of sphagnum moss, that will keep it hydrated and ensure good humidity all through the bloom season from March to June. of course, I would be removing the extra moss when the monsoons set in.

My recent post featuring the blooming Aerangis biloba

All in all, I am very pleased with the orchid and how it is growing despite an extended summer and lack of humidity. If you noticed, I have added a seedling on the left since this one is developing to the right of the mount. I hope to have a bushy plant in a couple of years.

I recommend this orchid for your collection as it is hardy and fuss free. The blooms are delicate and beautiful. If you grow it on a mount, the show will indeed be very beautiful. The bloom display will make you feel like you have a brought a slice of nature right into your living room. And to top it, the orchid has a lovely floral fragrance like that of jasmine at dawn and dusk. However, there is no fragrance during the day or at night.

I have some browning in the blooms and some of the blooms have been chewed up. It looks like thrip damage. Some of my other orchids have also been affected. I will spray some organic insecticide such as neem oil with a dishwasher liquid to take care of the issue. If the issue is not resolved, then, I might try out a suitable pesticide, though I try to avoid their use as much as possible.

That said, thank you so much for being here. Please subscribe to the blog for regular updates on orchid care. You can also check out my youTube channel if you are looking for tips on orchid care. Please leave a comment if you have any queries regarding this orchid. I will get back to you on it.

Until my next, happy growing!

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