Bulbophyllum Orchid Plant Care

Bulbophyllum orchids are not your usual household pot plants; rather, they are sought after collectors’ plants because of their uniqueness.

They can bloom year-round in a vast variety of colors, shapes, and, perhaps most famously, good and very bad-smelling scents.

They take a little more skill to grow well and are a great challenge and topic of conversation among friends who like to garden.


Looking for other types of flowering plants? Go back to our main Flowers and Perennials page.


What are Bulbophyllum Orchids? 

Bulbophyllum orchids are flowering plants that consist of one of the largest groups of orchids.

There are over 2,000 species in the genus Bulbophyllum that are found in tropical and subtropical climate zones around the world, including Australia, Southeast Asia, Africa, South America, and Papua New Guinea.

The majority of the species are found in mountainous forests and rainforests in Africa and Asia’s tropics. 

Though they are native to forests and thus used to the climate of the moist, dimly lit forests, orchid collectors can now grow them in a variety of environments.

Shape and Size of Bulbophyllum Orchid Bulbs

The Bulbophyllum genus displays a wide range of growth forms, from small epiphytes to huge species with cane-like growth.

With that said, Bulbophyllum bulbs are usually epiphytes, which are plants that grow on top of other plants but get their food and water from the environment around them and are not parasitic. 

Bulbophyllum, which translated from Greek means “bulb leaf,” gets its name from their swollen pseudobulbs, thickened stems at the base of each growth.

What-Are-Bulbophyllum-Orchids

The pseudobulbs can be identified by their flowering inflorescence, which grows from the base of the pseudobulb, and their tops, which have one or two fleshy leaves.

The Bulbophyllum species come in many different shapes and forms, but all flowers share these two characteristics:

  • first, flowers have a hinged lip joined to the column; and
  • secondly, the inflorescence arises from the base of the pseudobulb and not from its tip.

Scent of Bulbophyllum Orchids

Bulbophyllum orchid’s main pollinators are flies, and so they have evolved a number of interesting and captivating smells to attract them.

The most well-known Bulbophyllum orchids have a bad smell of pungent rotten meat. However, not all are offputting; there are some varieties with much more pleasant fruity scents.

Flies are attracted to these scents and land on a springy, hinged lip, which tips them backward into the column where the pollination takes place.

If what you are looking for is a sweet-smelling pot plant with its spring perfume wafting through your house, then these are probably not the right fit for you. 

Bulbophyllum Orchid Care 

Bulbophyllum orchids are best grown by a moderately experienced gardener and are best suited to a greenhouse or east-facing windows where they can receive bright but diffused light in a highly humidified atmosphere. 

Temperature and Climate

Temperature-And-Climate-for-Bulbophyllum-Orchids

Bulbophyllum is native to diverse habitats, but in general, most species prefer warm temperatures ranging from 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but they can survive in cooler conditions down to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

However, some species come from more temperate regions and even highland forests, so they could grow in temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and survive temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night.

In fact, Bulbophyllum flowers normally require a colder temperature to begin blooming.

Humidity should be high at optimal levels of between 60-90% but with good air movement around the plants. Greenhouses, for example, are a great growing climate for orchids.

Bottom line, Bulbophyllum species are so vast that you’ll need to figure out the specific plant’s requirements and try to meet them.

Light

Light-for-Bulbophyllum-Orchids

Bulbophyllum has adapted to growing on tree trunks under forest canopies and hence enjoys the bright early morning sun or gentle evening sunlight.

Direct midday sun is too strong for the plant and should be kept away from it.

You can use shade cloth material, the shade of a tree, or avoid southern-facing windows to prevent the plant’s leaves from becoming burnt by the sun.

Perfect conditions would be to grow in partial shade with good morning sun.

Bulbophyllum bulbs are suited to growing indoors, and while plants will probably survive even in low light conditions, you will be rewarded with more flowers per year if you find a spot that gets enough bright light.

Watering 

Bulbophyllum prefers not to dry out and should be watered frequently, every 3 to 4 days at least, and without any dry spells in between.

They have fine root systems that need to stay moist most of the time.

If they are mounted, they will need more frequent watering, up to twice a day, to make sure their very fine roots stay moist.

By the way, you can use a tree fern, cork, or even styrofoam to mount these plants.

Generally speaking, Bulbophyllum orchids prefer wetter conditions than other orchids, which you may already be more familiar with growing.


For more information on whether you should water your orchids with ice? Read more about:


Soil

Soil-for-Bulbophyllum-Orchids

These can be grown in a well-draining medium like sphagnum moss or coconut coir (coco coir), and I would recommend growing them mounted if at all possible, as it more closely resembles their epiphyte origins, but only if you have the time and intention of misting them frequently to keep their delicate roots moist.

If you have the time and plan to mist their roots frequently to keep them moist, I would recommend growing them mounted on something because it is more like how they grow in the wild. 

Fertilizer

They should be fertilized once a week in summer and reduced to once a month in winter with a balanced orchid or houseplant fertilizer that is diluted to a quarter of its normal recommended strength.

Remember that the purpose of pseudobulbs is to store food for the plant, which is why they only need small amounts of nutrients. 

We really like using slow-release fertilizer, because they are super simple to use and once you set it in, you don’t have to worry about overfertilizing it. We highly suggest this slow-release fertilizer because we know it works.

Osmocote PotShots: Premeasured House Plant Food, Feed for up to 6 Months, 25 Nuggets
  • Specially formulated for plants grown in containers, Osmocote PotShots...
  • FEEDS UP TO 6 MONTHS: Feed your outdoor and indoor potted plants for up to...
  • NO GUESSWORK: Minimize the risk of over- and under-feeding by giving your...

Repotting

Repotting-Bulbophyllum-Orchids

They don’t like being moved around often because it can hurt their delicate roots.

It is better to only re-pot every 3 to 4 years if need be, and preferably in the autumn or once new growth has appeared.

Generally, they prefer to be potted in shallow pots or hanging baskets, but as some species have very long rhizomes, it will depend on the species.

If you do not plan to keep the orchid somewhere with naturally high humidity or in a greenhouse, then it is wiser to pot it in a sphagnum moss mixture to keep its fine roots moist. 

Propagation 

New plants can be propagated by dividing existing plants or by seed germination. Seeds can be inserted into sphagnum moss or coir and kept moist.

They have a high rate of germination. When splitting Bulbophyllum, make sure to leave at least 2 pseudobulbs per new growth. 

Common Problems With Bulbophyllum Plants

Bulbophyllum, as with any flowering plant, are not immune to pests and diseases. In this section, we go over some common issues that these plants may encounter.

Pests

The mealybug is the most common insect that attacks Bulbophyllum plants. If your plant has been infested, mealybugs will live on the undersides of the leaves.

First, try to wipe as many pests as possible by using rubbing alcohol with tissue or cotton balls.

Then, spray an insecticide to get rid of the remaining bugs that you cannot see.

If you want to make your own DIY insecticide, mix some 1 part rubbing alcohol with 9 parts water and then add a few drops of dish detergent.

Spray the plants every several days, and then wash them between applications to remove any dead insects.

When dealing with widespread infestations, using a pesticide spray that has been specifically designed for orchids may be your only option. In most cases, this should get rid of your pest infestation.

Diseases 

Diseases-of-Bulbophyllum-Orchids

Because Bulbophyllum thrives in high-humidity climates, they can get fungal and bacterial infections, especially in their roots, such as root rot or leaf spots and leaf blights, which ultimately lead to deformed or blemished blossoms and possibly dying plants.

Root Rot

Root rot in Bulbophyllum is easy to detect. Rotting roots become dark, mushy, and hollow.

The most likely causes are overwatering or lack of drainage of excess water. In contrast, roots that are brittle indicate that you have underwatered.

If your orchid is still alive but its roots have died and become mushy, it may still be saved.

You will have to treat it immediately, by removing it from the soil, allowing the roots to dry out, and then repotting it in new, well-draining soil.

Leaf Spot and Leaf Blights

Leaf spots or leaf blights on Bulbophyllum orchids are typically caused by bacterial or fungal infections that are caused by high temperatures and, in particular, high humidity.

You’ll want to mitigate these plant diseases by not overwatering and giving your plants good air circulation.

If you notice soft, brown, or black spots, the likely cause is a bacterial disease. These bacterial illnesses could be caused by a host of bacteria, but more than likely by Acidovorax (syn. Pseudomonas).

The spots initially appear as tiny brown or black smudges that are soggy. When you squeeze the spot, the leaf exudes a viscous liquid.

Another likely cause of leaf spot disease is a fungus called Phyllosticta capitalensis. This fungal infection is highly contagious and causes ugly discoloration on the leaves of an orchid.

Again, it is prevalent in warmer climates but can be found on a variety of orchid species all around the world.

Whether you have root rot or disease portions of the plant, use a good pair of pruning shears. They are not too expensive and they seem to never dull. Plus, they are easy on the hands.

VIVOSUN 6.5 Inch Gardening Scissors Hand Pruner Pruning Shear with Straight Stainless...
  • Reduce Hand Strain: These micro tip snips are built spring-loaded so that...
  • Ultra Sharp Blades: These quality snips come with stainless steel...
  • Secure, Easy to Lock: These micro tip snips feature a safe and secure...

Conclusion

When discovering how exactly to grow and care for your Bulbophyllum pot plant, it is important to delve a little deeper into where your specific species originates from and the range of conditions it would naturally experience there.

With it being the largest genus in the entire orchid family and one of the largest plant genera of flowering plants, you can understand why specific species requirements might differ slightly from plant to plant. 

Your reasons for collecting one of these unique orchids might be a daily reminder of a tropical holiday you once treated yourself to, a fascinating statement piece in your botanical collection, or simply a particularly smelly housewarming gift to your future mother-in-law.

Whatever your reasons are, make sure you give your plant plenty of bright light, good air circulation, and enough water to satisfy a rainforest-thirsty native, and you will be able to enjoy its flowers all year-round.

References

Show More
  • Teoh, Eng. (2021). Bulbophyllum Thouars.. Orchid Species from Himalaya and Southeast Asia Vol. 1A-E, pgs. 97-169. URL: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/349659022_Bulbophyllum_Thouars
  • American Orchid Society. (Eds.). (2021). Bulbophyllum. American Orchid Society. https://www.aos.org/orchids/orchids-a-to-z/letter-b/bulbophyllum.aspx
  • The Botanic Garden of Smith College, (Eds.). (2020). Bulbophyllum Orchid Blooms. The Botanic Garden of Smith College. URL: https://garden.smith.edu/news/bulbophyllum-orchid-blooms
  • About/mentions: Bulbophyllum, orchid, flowering plant

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.