Order: Asparagales
Family: Orchidaceae
Subfamily: Orchidoideae
Tribe: Orchideae
Subtribe: Orchidinae
Genus: Habenaria
Species: H. radiata

THE WHITE EGRET FLOWER - Habenaria radiata

The White Egret Flower - Habenaria radiata is an absolutely gorgeous species of terrestrial orchid native to China, Japan, Korea and Russia. Its natural habitat includes grassy wetlands and seepage slopes in moderate to high mountains, and while it is commonly found in cultivation it is sadly is in rapid decline over its entire natural range. Over collection would have been a contributing factor in the past, but more recently their loss has been due to the destruction of their habitat.


Habenaria radiata comes in the form of small, pea sized tuber from which grass-like leaves are produced, alternately on a single stem. The leaves number up to 7, and are between 5-20 cm long and about 1 cm wide. The spike continues upwards until it releases an unbranched flower spike which can be up to 50 cm tall. Each spike will usually produce 2 or 3 flowers but sometimes it can be as many 8 which being to bloom in late July until their peak in August.

It is no surprise that Habenaria radiata received its common name of 'white egret flower' from its exquisite, pearly-white flowers. The sepals are simple, small and green, while the extravagant lip has three main lobes. The two biggest extend laterally and are highly fringed, while the center lobe is simple, elongate, and pointing downward. Taken as a whole the flower looks remarkably like a white egret in full flight!

Over the summer new bulbs will form on short underground stems while the old bulb slowly dies away. A healthy bulb can produce up to 3 replacement bulbs and this new generation will be fully formed, individual plants by late October.

 Habenaria radiata is easy to cultivate due to its liberal production of new tubers each season. Grow them as you would any bog orchid and, very importantly, allow the bulbs to dry off in winter. Do not plant them in normal potting soil or liberally use fertilizer.

Plant them just below the surface, approximately 1 cm deep, pointy side up, in any mix that is water retaining and acidic in reaction. You can make your own rooting medium using natural weathered pumice, peat moss, and a bit of sand (ratio of 1 : 1 : 1/2) then top dress with a thin layer of dried sphagnum moss. Alternatively use perlite mixed with sand and moss peat.

Place them in a sunny, warm position and keep them moist, but not wet.  It can take a few weeks before the new growth emerges, but once it does, increase watering.  When the weather becomes hotter and the plants are growing strongly, water them so that they are permanently wet, but not waterlogged. Use clean rain water if possible, otherwise use tap water that has been allowed to stand for 48 hours.

Once they are finished flowering you will still need to keep them wet until the heat of summer has passed. Come the autumn they will only need to be kept moist. Once night temperatures start to drop below 15 C the bulbs will start to go dormant.  All dead growth can be removed at that time and the bulbs can be allowed to dry off, but not so that they dessicate otherwise the bulbs will die. Add small amounts of water every few weeks is necessary, particularly if the pot is kept in low humidity.  Keep the plants cool and dry throughout the winter at a temperature of between – 0 to 10 degrees Celsius.

Recover all newly formed bulbs in March or early April and throw away any old, dead or diseased bulbs and roots.  The new bulbs will be bright tan or light brown in color and firm to the touch while the old bulbs will be dark and soft.  Replant them immediately to start again.

Fertilize with a very dilute inorganic fertilizer with micronutrients.  In May and June fertilize every other week, making sure that the pots are fully flushed with fresh water to avoid salt build up.

The Naked Man Orchid   The Angel orchid - Habenaria Grandifloriformis  THE MOTH ORCHID - Phalaenopsis species and cultivars   ORCHID PRIMULA - Primula vialii   THE ORCHID CACTUS - Disocactus ackermannii  THE SWADDLED BABIES ORCHID


About the Author

The 'Seeds of Eaden' website is the brainchild of professional horticulturist and multi-award winning gardener Simon Eade. After six years of study; two years 'Retail Horticulture' at Hadlow College, then four years Commercial Horticulture at Greenwich University, Simon has worked in a number of 'fields' within the industry for over twenty years. Most notably, managing the prestigious Alexandra Palace garden centre in London. Since then he has become an internationally published writer, and author of the popular 'Garden of Eaden' blog.

Simon Eade is also a recipient of the Royal Horticultural Society's Banksian medal

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