What Makes An Orchid Flower Spike Change Color?


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Orchid flower spikes can change color for a number of reasons. Understanding why these color changes happen can help you detect problems with your orchid early on.

When caring for orchids, it is very important to pay attention to every subtle change in color. It is more common for the orchid leaves to change color, but there are times when the orchid flower spike, also known as the stem, changes color too. What do these changes mean for you and your orchids?

Orchid spikes can turn yellow, red, pink, purple, brown, or black for several reasons. A healthy orchid spike is often green. The orchid’s health, surrounding environment, and how you care for your orchids may lead to a change in flower spike color. Oftentimes, the orchid spike will change color late in the blooming cycle, as the flowers fall off the spike and the orchid spike begins to die.

Pink orchid blooms on a flower spike

Some of these color changes may be alarming, but in many cases, the color change is normal. Most of the time, color changes in the orchid spike are not a cause for concern. I will go over the different color changes you might see in your orchid spike and what you may need to do about it.

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What Color Is a Healthy Orchid Spike?

Green orchid spike with buds forming

The color of a healthy orchid spike is green. You should aim for this color in all of your orchid spikes and stems. A green orchid spike means that the orchid is capable of transporting nutrients from the roots and leaves to the flowers. However, there may be times when the flower spike turns red, pink, purple, yellow, brown, or black.

What is an Orchid Spike?

An orchid spike is the flower spike of the orchid. This is where buds form and eventually, flowers bloom. An orchid flower spike can also be referred to as an inflorescence. Sometimes, people also refer to the orchid spike as the orchid “stem.”

This is where orchid terminology can get confusing. For example, an orchid “stem” can refer to the flower spike. In monopodial orchids like Phalaenopsis orchids, “orchid stem” could refer to the main stem of the orchid. The main stem is where the leaves meet at the base of the orchid. In sympodial orchids with pseudobulbs, such as Dendrobiums or Cymbidiums, orchid “stem” can refer to the pseudobulb.

Here, I will be mainly talking about the flower spikes of Phalaenopsis orchids and why you may see these flower spikes turn different colors. Orchid spikes are also sometimes referred to as orchid stems, but I will use the term “orchid spike” or “flower spike” throughout this article.

Why Does The Color of an Orchid Spike Matter?

Color changes are an orchid’s way of communicating with you, for better or for worse. You can see this in the leaves. Changes in leaf color can indicate changes in the orchid’s health. It is the same for orchid spikes.

Oftentimes, changes in an orchid spike’s color are not a cause for alarm. It generally does not mean your orchid is dying. If anything, it might just mean that you have to make some minor adjustments to your care.

For example, some orchid spikes will change color in response to light. Phalaenopsis orchids react to sunlight similarly to humans — we tan or burn, and orchid spikes turn red or pink. It’s the plant’s way of telling you to reduce the amount of light exposure.

A green orchid spike indicates a healthy orchid. Other colors may or may not necessary tell you about your orchid’s health. However, they may tell you that you need to change something in the environment or your care practices. Let’s talk about the different colors that an orchid spike can have and what this may mean in your orchid.

Why Is My Orchid Spike Turning Yellow?

Yellowing orchid spike

There are a few reasons why your orchid spike can turn yellow. Below, I’ll talk about some of the top reasons why this might happen.

Blooming is Done

One of the most common reasons why an orchid’s flower spike turns yellow is that the orchid has finished blooming. As the orchid spike starts to die, it will turn yellow and eventually, brown. This is totally normal and signals the end of the orchid’s blooming cycle.

Once the orchid spike starts to turn yellow, it means that this particular spike is done supporting life. It no longer has the means necessary to produce blooms. In other words, you will not be able to trigger reblooming from a yellow orchid spike.

The best course of action is to cut it off. Prune the orchid spike right below the yellow discoloration. If you can, cut above the node using a sterilized blade. Apply ground cinnamon to the cut end of the orchid spike. Leave any green parts of the spike intact. This may or may not work to stop the rest of the spike from turning yellow.

If the remainder of the spike continues to turn yellow, despite your pruning efforts, then your orchid is signaling to you that this spike is completely done producing flowers. In this case, you might as well cut the spike off closer to the base.

If, however, you prune off just the yellow section and the remainder of the orchid spike stays green, then there is a chance that you can trigger reblooming in your orchid. Keep watering and fertilizing your orchid as you normally would. In a few weeks, your orchid may grow a new flower spike from a lower node on that original spike.

Over-Fertilization

Another reason why an orchid spike can turn yellow is over-fertilization. Excessive amounts of fertilizer can affect the color of an orchid’s leaves and spike. You may need to re-evaluate the amount of fertilizer you are using, the type of fertilizer, and if you have been diluting it properly.

Orchids need more fertilizer during growth periods and less during their dormant periods. If your orchid is in its dormant stage, it is best to reduce the frequency of fertilizing. This may be something that you have to adjust or modify incrementally. Observe your orchid after each adjustment to see if that change was what your orchid needed.

Too Much Light

If your orchid spike still continues to turn yellow, the next thing you will want to do is evaluate your orchid’s light exposure. Phalaenopsis flower spikes may turn yellow or light yellow if the orchid is exposed to too much sunlight.

Exposure to too much light may start with a slight yellow discoloration. However, prolonged exposure could lead to sunburn. The easiest way to deal with this problem is to move the orchid to a lower light area. You can also use a curtain to reduce the amount of light your orchid receives.

Why Is My Orchid Spike Turning Brown?

Brown orchid spike with wilted flowers

After “yellow,” brown orchid spikes are probably most common. Earlier I mentioned that at the end of a blooming cycle, as the orchid spike dies, it will turn yellow. As the yellow discoloration spreads down the orchid spike and the spike starts to dry up, it will turn light brown.

If the orchid spike is brown, it usually also looks dry and brittle. A brown orchid spike is a dead flower spike. It doesn’t mean that your orchid is dead though. If you see an orchid spike turning brown, it only means that the plant is going through a natural blooming cycle. Your orchid is done blooming on that particular orchid spike. If you didn’t know this, a brown orchid spike may appear concerning, but don’t worry, it is totally normal.

Where to Prune Your Orchid Spike

You can trim off the brown part of the spike, cutting down to just above a node or branch. The second option is to cut the spike all the way down to the base. Either method can encourage the growth of new flower spikes, but the results may vary depending on your particular orchid.

If you choose to prune your orchid spike to a point just above a branch, you create a possibility that the orchid will produce another stem on the side and start another blooming cycle.

Keep in mind that if this happens, it will be a much faster cycle. The flowers will be smaller and will not last as long. This is due to the fact that the orchid did not get a chance to go through the full growth phase. The orchid did not have the opportunity to store energy for the new blooming period. Instead, it is jumping right into the next blooming cycle.

Pruning the orchid spike down to the base will result in the orchid taking longer to produce another flower spike. Essentially, the orchid will be starting “from scratch.” However, these blooms will be more similar in size to the previous blooms you saw on your orchid. This is because the orchid will have had time to store up energy for the orchid blooms.

Why Is My Orchid Spike Turning Black?

Orchid spike turning black

Seeing a black spike on an orchid can be scary. Sometimes this can happen due to disease or problems with your orchid’s health. I will go over some reasons for a black discoloration on your orchid spike below.

Low Humidity Levels

If the black discoloration is just confined to the orchid spike and doesn’t affect the leaves, roots or main orchid stem (where the leaves join the base of the orchid), then breathe a sigh of relief and check your humidity levels. Proper humidity levels are so important for orchid health. Black discolored spikes may be an indicator of low humidity.

To fix this, try increasing the surrounding humidity. If the potting media feels dry and the orchid pot is light, you will need to water your orchid.

You can also set up a humidity tray under your orchid pots. As the water in the tray evaporates, it will add some humidity around the orchid plant. If you’d rather not use a humidity tray, here are some other easy ways you can increase humidity for your orchids.

While you are adjusting the humidity levels around the orchid, be sure to also maintain light exposure. Allow your orchid to continue to receive lots of bright, indirect light. If the black discoloration is due to dryness and low humidity, with these changes, you can expect the black discoloration to minimize in a few weeks.

Blooming is Done

Phalaenopsis flower spikes may also turn black after blooming, as the spike starts to die. The best way to deal with this is to take sterile scissors or gardening shears and prune off the orchid spike. Cut below the blackened area and dust the cut end of the remaining orchid spike with ground cinnamon powder. This will help seal off the spike and prevent infection.

Pruning off this blackened area will also allow your orchid to grow new flower spikes from a lower node, if there are any. You can also prune the blackened spike all the way down to the base if you prefer.

Rot or Disease

A more alarming reason why orchid spikes turn black is rot or a fungal infection. If you have been doing everything else right and your orchid has not bloomed yet, then a black orchid spike can indicate disease. In this case, you want to isolate your orchid from your other plants. Inspect it thoroughly and check for any other abnormalities or blackened areas on your orchid. Look for pests.

If the blackened area is isolated to the orchid spike, but progressing down the spike, then you will need to do some pruning. Take some sterilized scissors or gardening shears and cut your orchid spike below the blackened area. Dust the cut end with ground cinnamon powder. If the blackened area continues to spread down the spike, then cut again below the blackened area and dust with cinnamon powder.

Another reason why orchid spikes, stems, and leaves can turn black is crown rot. Crown rot is a fairly common problem for beginner orchid growers. Water settles into the orchid crown due to improper watering techniques. Fungus grows in this standing water and infects the plant. Over time, the fungal infection will cause the main orchid stem to rot and turn black and die.

You will have many warning signs before it gets to this point though. For one, the leaves will start to turn yellow and fall off, one by one. Once you see this starting to happen, take action to treat the crown rot and try to save your plant from dying. This is partly why it is so important to regularly inspect your orchids. It also underscores the importance of understanding what different color changes in the leaves and stems mean.

Why Is My Orchid Spike Turning Red?

Orchid spike with red tones

There are a few reasons why your orchid spike may appear red. I’ll talk about these below.

Too Much Light Exposure

Sometimes, the flower spikes of Phalaenopsis orchids can turn red or reddish due to environmental factors. One cause of this is too much light exposure. This is a normal reaction that these plants may have with their environment. Think of it like how we might get sunburned if we are outside all day and got too much sun.

Keep in mind that the reasons why orchid spikes and stems change color can vary based on the orchid species and the situation. Cattleya orchids stems, for example, will take on a red color if the orchid has had enough sunlight.

Red orchid spikes are easy to spot in Phalaenopsis orchids. If excessive light exposure is the problem, you can address this by relocating the orchid to a lower light area. Alternatively, you can use a curtain to reduce or filter out excess sunlight. It may take a few weeks before the reddish tone disappears completely.

However, there are times when you might not want to relocate your plant or make this change. As long as the orchid leaves are not turning yellow (a sure sign of too much light), you can leave your orchid where it is. Some orchid plants produce better flowers if the plant gets a lot of sunlight.

Genetics

In some cases, the genetics of your particular orchid species will result in a red, not green, orchid spike. If this happens, it is totally normal!

In fact, one of my orchids right now has a red flower spike. This particular orchid has always had red flower spikes. It has appeared healthy through the years, blooming at least once or twice a year. This orchid is housed with several other orchids, all of whom have green stems. All the orchids are exposed to the same amounts of light, water, temperature and humidity. This leads me to believe that genetics is the cause of this orchid’s red-colored spike, not environmental factors. All this to say that red orchid spikes are not always a sign of a problem and can be perfectly normal.

If your orchid appears healthy, is growing and continuing to bloom, and just happens to have a red-colored orchid spike, then don’t worry about it and enjoy the blooms.

Why Is My Orchid Spike Turning Pink?

Orchid spike turning pink

Your orchid spike might have turned pink for a couple of reasons. One, the blooming cycle is over and the pink spike is signaling that. Two, the orchid may be dehydrated and the pink spike is indicating that your orchid needs more water.

The End of a Blooming Cycle

When an orchid goes through a bloom cycle, some parts of the orchid spike may remain green. These green areas have a chance to produce another flower spike from any one of the remaining nodes. Other parts of the orchid spike will turn pink, yellow, brown, or black and die off. This is completely normal. Pink is one of the colors that the orchid spike might exhibit as it dies off.

In a pink orchid spike, nutrients and water are no longer being transported along this orchid spike. When you notice this change in color, you can simply prune your orchid spike back to a spot just above a node. If the pink discoloration is widespread and travels down the orchid spike, you can also prune the spike back all the way down to the base. In either situation, be sure you use sterilized scissors or gardening shears to cut your orchid spike, and dust the cut end with ground cinnamon powder.

Dehydration and Not Enough Water

If your orchid has not bloomed yet, it is possible that the pink tinge in the orchid spike is due to dehydration rather than the spike dying. You may also notice that your orchid leaves are wrinkled, wilted or limp. Either you’re not giving your orchid enough water or the orchid is unable to absorb the water. The latter can be a result of root rot or dried, shriveled roots. In both of these situations, the roots can no longer absorb water. You will need to repot the orchid, trim off any rotted or dead roots and inspect the orchid roots’ health.

Repotting or changing the watering frequency are easy enough fixes. Moving forward though, you will need to be more mindful of regularly inspecting your orchid roots. Keep a regular watering schedule and check the potting media to make sure you are on track.

Why Is My Orchid Spike Turning Purple?

Orchid spike with purple color

In many cases, purple discoloration is usually seen in the leaves, and on the underside of the leaves at that. However, there are some cases where the orchid spike turns purple or takes on a purplish tone. This is normal for many orchids, especially low light orchids such as the Phalaenopsis orchid. Like most discolorations or color changes that you will see, this is due to excessive light exposure.

Too Much Light Exposure

Yellow and pink tinged orchid spikes are typical signs that an orchid is receiving too much light. However, these colors may progress to red or purple tones. If this happens, it means that the orchid is nearing its tolerance level for light exposure.

Your orchid can communicate with you in so many ways. If you are trying to figure out if your orchid is getting adequate amounts of light, leaf and spike colors are great indicators of this. If the orchid spike starting to take on purple tones, then you will need to reduce the light exposure. The easiest thing to do would be to move your orchid further away from the source of light.

The End of a Blooming Cycle

Another reason why an orchid spike may turn purple is that it is finishing a blooming cycle. This is something that is normal for many orchids. However, you may still need to observe it to see whether you should remove it from the plant or not.

Why Is My Orchid Spike Changing Color After Pruning?

Orchid stem changing color after the flowers fell off

What if your orchid spike changes color after you have pruned it or the flowers have fallen off? I talked about earlier how an orchid stem may turn yellow, pink, or brown, or even black after a blooming cycle has ended. The end of the blooming cycle generally coincides with the flowers wilting and falling off. In a typical orchid growth and blooming cycle, the orchid undergoes these steps:

  1. The orchid plant grows new roots and leaves.
  2. Energy is directed at blooming and growth of a new flower spike.
  3. Any old spikes remaining on the plant will not receive energy for bloom production. Instead, the plant will focus all of its energy on the newer spike and produce a new flower spike.
  4. The old flower spike, with its lack of nutrients and energy, will slowly die off.

Now, this process will be the same regardless of the orchid species that you are caring for. Some species will enter a “dormancy” stage where the plant tries to conserve energy to make the new flower spike.

Of course, some orchid spikes will stay green and retain their possibility of growing new spikes. I have these in a few of my Phalaenopsis plants. I just leave these green spikes alone and do not try to prune them. In my experience, these green spikes have been able to produce more spikes from a lower node.

Final Thoughts

Changes in orchid spikes color are usually normal. Remember, there are three main reasons why orchid flower spikes can change color: health or end of a blooming cycle, environmental conditions, and how you care for your orchids.

In many cases, you shouldn’t be alarmed by these discolorations. For the most part, color changes in the orchid spike can be handled with pruning or minor changes in care. The only exception would be when the orchid spike turns black. This can be a result of disease or rot. In this case, you will need to prune the spike and do a little more investigating.

If you want to keep your orchid healthy, you have to consider all of these things to figure out the best course of action that you should take. Sometimes, it will be a process of elimination before you correctly figure out what is wrong with your orchid.

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Different Phalaenopsis orchids with different colored orchid spikes
Yellow orchid blooms on a green orchid spike
Phalaenopsis orchid flowers on a green flower spike

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