Scores of blossoms are arranged on the tall stalks that erupt from nun orchid clumps in late spring.
The individual nun orchids are large, three inches across, and as beautiful close up as when spectacularly massed with others on the flower stalks.
Nun orchid is a terrestrial orchid (many orchids are epiphytic) that grows from a 2-3 in (5-7.5 cm) wide bulblike root with a half dozen or so glossy, lance shaped leaves to 3 ft (1 m) in length and 3 in (8 cm) in width. In late spring the orchid sends up a 3-4 ft (1-1.2 m) tall stalk bearing clusters of nodding reddish brown flowers. The fragrant flowers, each about 3 in (7.5 cm) across, are silvery on the outside and have yellowish throats. They are rather subdued flowers, but close inspection reveals their typical orchid complexity. The flowers are quite long lasting and darken as they age.
Location Phaius tankervilliae has a wide range in tropical Asia, from central China through India and on to Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia.
Nun orchid is one of the easiest of the orchids to care for. They should be repotted every couple years as the roots can become quite extensive. Light: Nun orchid grows best in light shade or filtered sunlight. Indoors, provide bright light, but not direct sun. Moisture: Nun orchid likes a well drained, but moist, rich in humus, acidic soil. It can tolerate a drought, but isn't happy about it. Allow potted plants to dry out more in winter when their leaves dies back. Water with rain water if possible, and avoid wetting the foliage. Hardiness: USDA Zones 9 - 11. Nun orchids do not suffer freezes and frosts kindly. They like to be warm. Propagation: The tubers of nun orchids can be divided to start new plants. If you just lay the old flower stalk on some moist potting medium, it may produce offsets at the nodes. These offsets can then be planted up.
The nun orchid is perfect for shady places beneath tree canopies or in entryways and around patios. The handsome foliage is showy all of the time and the plant becomes spectacular when in bloom.
This herbaceous perennial is usually grown in a container so it can be protected from freezing weather in winter. Even when not in flower, the foliage makes an attractive container plant. In frost free climates, grow nun orchid in the perennial bed, in borders, or under taller flowering shrubs and trees. She likes a little shade during the midday summer heat, and needs a few weeks of dry dormancy in the winter.
The flowers of the nun orchid have an understated beauty: they are not flashy and bright like, say, a fancy rose or a showoff amaryllis, but they are proud in their subdued grays and yellow-brown hues, and not ashamed to stick around for a few weeks.