If you saw a Thunia without flowers, you be forgiven for thinking it was a cornstalk. When it’s in bloom, however, there’s no doubt that it’s an orchid. Thunia flowers look like Cattleyas that haven’t opened completely. The 5 inch (13 cm) wide blooms hang in clusters, pulling down the tops of their 4 ft. (1.2 m) tall stalks.
Possibly the fastest growing orchid, this terrestrial replaces these tall stalks each year. New leaves emerge from the base of the previous year’s stalk (actually a pseudobulb,) and the new growth shoots up in just a few months. This species is native to the slopes of the Himalayas, and has a wide range from India east to Vietnam and north to China.
When new spring growth emerges after winter dormancy, Thunias need light watering and full sun. Too much water can rot new growth. Within a few weeks, the new stalks grow 6 inches (15 cm,) and should be moved into shadier conditions. By late spring, Thunias need heavy water and fertilizer to mimic the Indian Ocean monsoon in their native homes. After blooms that last a couple weeks, leaves turn yellow in the early autumn. At this point, watering and fertilizing should be reduced to a minimum. I keep this specimen cool and dry in winter, watering as seldom as once a month to keep the stalks from shriveling too much. If these varying seasonal care needs seem too daunting, just imagine the reward of seeing these gorgeous flowers hanging off a cornstalk.
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