Consult this handy guide to the Coconut Orchid, Maxillaria Tenuifolia, for ways to grow and bloom this beautiful, sweet-smelling orchid.
One orchid attracted widespread attention at the University of South Florida’s Annual Spring Plant Festival. Maxillaria Tenuifolia, commonly known as the Coconut Orchid, appeared in almost every orchid vendor’s tent and wowed buyers with its dark red blooms and sweet coconut scent. The plant is one of hundreds of species of Maxillaria, and is one of the easiest to grow. These orchids can put out their fragrant blooms year after year with the proper care, so keep this basic guide to Maxillaria Tenuifolia handy and watch that orchid grow!
Maxillaria Tenuifolia, abbreviated Max. Tenuifolia, has recently been reclassified as Maxillariella Tenuifolia, according to the American Orchid Society. It grows at low elevations from Mexico to Costa Rica and is recognized by its long, thin leaves and deep red blooms. The Coconut Orchid draws its name from its distinctive scent and is propagated by dividing clumps of pseudobulbs into smaller separate plants.
Max. Tenuifolia needs bright, indirect sunlight to thrive. Light levels can range from lower levels appropriate for phalaenopsis orchids to those appropriate for sun-loving cattleyas.
Watering is critical to keeping Coconut Orchids happy. They need frequent watering and prefer to be kept moist, but keeping the plant’s growing media sopping wet can lead to root rot. In their natural habitats, these orchids receive a winter rest period where watering is decreased for a period of time. There is room for experimentation with rest periods. Rest periods may be from the beginning of October to the end of November or from December through May.
Max. Tenuifolia likes relatively high humidity, so using a humidity tray in dryer environments is beneficial.
The Coconut Orchid is best suited to intermediate temperatures like the ones common to its native habitat. It favors night temperatures down to 55 F, and day temperatures of 68 F or higher. Max. Tenuifolia is a hardy plant, though, and can handle more extreme temperatures as long as its exposure is not prolonged.
Max. Tenuifolia has been successfully grown in a wide variety of potting media. It can be grown mounted on cork slabs, tree fern plaques, and even on rot-resistant tree branches. Any potting media should allow the plant to stay relatively moist while providing good drainage and air circulation to prevent root rot.
Potting soil does not provide adequate drainage for this plant. Instead, Philip Shin, an enthusiast from California with more than 18 years of experience with various orchids, suggests using a small amount of finely chopped sphagnum moss mixed with a larger portion of either pumice or pearlite.
The moss retains enough moisture to keep the plant happy, and the pumice or pearlite prevents rot by allowing the mixture to drain freely and air to circulate through the media. These orchids can also be grown in a mix of long-fibered sphagnum moss and either bark or coconut husk chips, in moss by itself, in fir bark mixtures, or in a variety of other media. Shin also suggests lining the bottom of a pot with screening to prevent losing any media during drainage.
Though this species is famous for its blood-red, coconut-scented blooms, Shin warns, “This species is rather stingy with flowering.” When a Max. Tenuifolia does not produce blossoms during its flowering season, too little light may be the culprit. The plant’s winter rest is also an important part of its blooming process and must not be overlooked when inducing a plant to bloom.
Shin notes that disturbing or damaging a plant’s roots can also interrupt its blooming cycle. Growers should resist any temptation to interfere with a healthy plant’s roots even when roots appear dead: Shin explains that the roots of Max. Tenuifolia are unlike the roots of other orchids and may look dead at first glance. Healthy, young roots are beige with a yellow tip, and more mature roots are brown. Healthy roots will turn green when watered.