The psychopsis papilio, or butterfly orchid, is a remarkable specimen that can be grown by the experienced gardener and the novice alike. Its requirements are not especially complicated, and its beauty makes it worth the small amount of attention necessary to maintain it. Butterfly orchids are named for their resemblance to a resting butterfly. They have long flowering stems that produce blooms in rapid succession. The blooms vary in color and are rougher to the touch than most flowers.
Place butterfly orchids in soil with excellent drainage. These plants grow naturally in rather dry forests and will fade quickly in waterlogged soil. Add pebbles or small chunks of bark to the soil to ensure good drainage. Carter and Holmes Orchids, specialists in premium orchid sales, suggests adding charcoal or tree fern to the soil mixture. These additives will lighten soil that is overly dense. Use a clay pot rather than plastic, as clay will hold in less moisture.
Water these orchids sparingly. The butterfly orchid has a rather thin, wispy root structure, making it highly susceptible to root rot. Orchids do prefer some humidity in the air, but this variety will need to drain away excess moisture. Water once a week or when soil feels dry to the touch.
Refrain from cutting back the stem once the flower has faded. Unlike other orchid varieties, this one can produce bloom after bloom on the same stem for years. Cutting this stem will not destroy the orchid, but it will rob the plant of its spectacular blooms for quite some time.
Repot these orchids with care, as their root systems are delicate. Repot at the beginning of new root growth, which takes place in the spring. To remove the plant from the old pot, gently tap the sides of the pot to loosen soil, turn the plant on its side, and carefully slide the orchid out. Rinse away old soil with trickles of cool water. Soak the roots in a root-growth stimulant, and allow the plant to dry for at least one week, misting lightly once a day. Repotting is stressful for the plant, so repot only when necessary.
Keep these plants in moderately warm environments. Butterfly orchids prefer a temperature range of 60 to 70 degrees. The potted butterfly orchid will thrive in almost any windowsill, as its light requirement is minimal.