Cultivating Orchids & Crafting Terrariums

Naturally Blue Orchids:
Are They Real? Do They Exist?

Blue orchids, mostly found in supermarkets and grocery stores, are eye-catchers. These Phalaenopsis orchids display a deep, rich blue that is so uncommon in nature. Even people who are not plant-lovers slow their pace when walking by the mystical, jaw-dropping display, and it’s almost as if you can read their minds.

Are these blue orchids real? Can they be natural?

Blue Phalaenopsis orchids are not natural or real. When new buds appeared on a white orchid's flower spike, blue dye was injected into the stem. The blossom in formation turns blue.  Blue orchids, which will rebloom with white blossoms, are more expensive due to the dye and the marketing.


A blue orchid in nature is rare but can be found. In this article, I'll focus on the 4 blue orchids that can be found in nature, (naturally, with no human influence) with no artificial blue orchid dye.

Disappointing tip: If the buds haven’t opened into full blossoms when the dye was injected, then the flowers will be a lighter blue. If the flowers were fully opened, the blue will be dark, and mesmerizing. Either way, it won;t last beyond that specific bloom, and the orchid will grow back white. So in essence, you paid an expensive price for a normal, plain-white Phalaenopsis orchid.
Blue Orchid
."Blue Orchids" by bunnygoth is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
Be careful when purchasing dyed “blue orchids.”

If you pick one up, you can easily see the puncture wound on the injection site where dye was injected. If not carefully covered in wax, the small hole can stain your finger blue.
Many people order blue orchids for special occasions, which is also a very big mistake. The blue dye will spread all over the white cake frosting (if placed on wedding cakes) and stain clothes and tablecloths.

The dye is also temporary. Your blue orchid will not rebloom this color, but in the natural creamy white. Yet the dye can have some harsh effects on the flower. If not injected correctly, the dye can ooze from the flower spike, destroying the healthy cells. This liquid overload makes the stem mushy over time, and can “leak” from the flowers.

In 2011, a company called Silver Vase introduced what they called the first real blue orchid on the market. These Phalaenopsis orchids are also not natural, and even though they were extremely popular the year they launched, once they rebloomed in all white, many buyers became upset (to put it nicely.) They weren't told this information or aware of that at the time.

Now the orchid is sold with clear instructions that the orchids natural color is white, and the enthralling blue will last only one bloom. Their process is not revealed to the public, remaining secret as to how they achieve the blue color.
Orchid enthusiasts and botanist alike were totally against the idea, and opinions remain strong on both ends: either you love it or you hate it.
Blue Orchids For Sale
Image by b r e n t is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Are Blue Orchids Edible for Human Consumption?

 A while back, I wrote an article about edible orchids, which you can read here. In that article, I addressed the issues of adding orchids in fine dinning and fancy recipes that call for orchids. Dendrobiums and Epidendrums are used a lot in Asia as a culinary delicacy, and in that article I even added a recipe to test.

There, I stated that, "All orchids are proper for human consumption, and none of them are poisonous." But... I was refereeing to the naturally grown orchid, and not one that has blue dye injected into it.  Orchids have made their way into fine cuisine and fancy dinning, but I wasn't referring to blue orchids.

We have no idea what goes into the production of that dye. Some companies refuse to share their secrets, like the story above displays. Without properly knowing what toxins you may be ingesting, I'd stay away from blue orchids in the kitchen.

Even though there haven't been cases of intoxication from blue orchids, there is no evidence to the contrary, either. What is known, is that the blue orchid dye is not irritable to the skin.

 Are Blue Orchids Poisonous to Dogs and Cats?

Household pets are always "into" something. If it's not our shoes, it's our orchids. What happens to a dog or cat when they ingest the blue orchid blossom? Blue orchids are not poisonous to cats, but may cause light to severe skin irritation and mucous inflammations. The natural, white orchid is not poisonous, but the blue orchid may be toxic to your cat depending on what dye is used. Yet there's the catch- what exactly goes into the dye??

In this other article, about orchids not being poisons to cats, I addressed the toxicity of orchids in general, but again, just like the orchids for human consumption article, I wasn't referring to blue orchids.

In that article, I specified that the potting medium may contain skin and mucous irritants, that would cause felines to have a mild reaction, but the orchid leaves and blossoms would cause no harm.  Orchids are safe for cats. Natural orchids are edible in your cat's diet also, but not recommended. It's the potting medium that you have to beware of, like redwood bark, which can cause respiratory sickness.

As for dogs, blue orchids present less of a threat for toxicity than they would a cat. Dogs have a stranger stomach lining than cats do, and ingest anything from tennis shoes to batteries, to orchid leaves. The dye will make a mess on the carpet, but shouldn't harm your dog. In all, blue orchids are not poisonous or toxic to canines.

Personally, I wouldn't risk the chance, and I'd keep the blue orchid away from the cats and dogs. Even though both dogs and cats have a higher tolerance for food intake than humans do, (a dog's stomach acid is ten times stronger than a human's is), it's not worth it when you have no idea what is going into the blue orchid dye.

Why is it so hard to find blue orchids, or even blue flowers, for that matter?

Blue is not a common color found in flower pigment. Less than 10% of the blossoming plants contain it. Most of the blues fade off into the light purple, and less into the deep, dark blue.

Is there a real blue orchid found in nature without the aid of blue dye or human intervention? Yes, blue orchids exist naturally in our ecosystem. They are harder to be discovered and not sold commercially on a large, mass-production scale. None of the blue orchids that exist in nature are the store-bought Phalaenopsis.

So don’t go after the fake Phalaenopsis you purchase in the grocery store. If you want a true-blue orchid, they are available.  Blue orchids found in nature are

Blue Vanda,

Boella Coelestis,

and Thelymitra Crinite.

Thelymitra Crinite

The first blue orchid, Thelymitra Crinite, is our winner for the blue contest. If you want “pure blue,” this is your orchid. No purple, no lavender, no washed-out tones… With delicate black and yellow columns (the center of the orchid) these orchids are sometimes called “sun orchids,” as in the picture, or “Blue lady” orchids.
blue orchid
"Thelymitra pauciflora flower2_SWR NC" by Macleay Grass Man is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Thelymitra Crinite are found in southwestern Australia and New Zealand.

Unlike the other blue orchids, this one doesn’t have a scent.

Let me correct that: they actually do, but the odor they produce is not recognizable by humans.
These orchids have flowers on a spike that stands 39 inches tall (75cm) and each flower is 1.5 inches (4 cm) wide. The bad side is that these flowers blossom around nine in the morning and close around four.
Thelymitra are hard to find for commerce online.

If you have bought one, or know where to buy one, please leave a website address, phone, or email in the comment section below.

(If this gets to spammy, I’ll have to delete the comments…)
blue orchid
"Thelymitra purpurata flower1_Hat head NC" by Macleay Grass Man is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Boella Coelestis (and her sister B.Violacea)

Another orchid that is naturally blue is the Boella Coelestis. This orchid is found in the South American Andes region. It is a zygopetalinae, and extremely hard to grow.

The color blue in this spellbinding orchid leans toward a deep purple, as in an African Violet. This cerulean-blueish-dark purple hue produces as musky yet sweet smell, and each blossom grows six to twelve leaves and huge flowers that are up to 4 inches in diameter.

Because they do not have pseudobulbs, these blue orchids need to be watered frequently, almost daily or every two days. They also need to be misted twice a day.

Contrary to Vandas, as you’ll read below, these orchids prefer low light. This means bright shade but no direct sun—1,000 to 1,800 foot candles—and humidity higher than any person can achieve indoors without a greenhouse: at least 70%, but prefer anywhere from 80 to 100%.

Boellea Coelestis definitely is for expert growers.

Blue Vanda: The True-Blue Orchid

Finally, to an orchid you can have more luck in purchasing and cultivating. Blue Vandas, or Vanda Coerulea supra (Lord Rothschild's Variety) is an exotic, to-die-for-orchid. These orchids display large, purplish-blue veined flowers and can be bought in online stores.

They were first mentioned in 1837 by the explorer William Griffith. He found this orchid during his travels through Northeast India, and brought it home with him to England.

Unfortunately, the orchid died during the trip.

Around the same time period, another botanist also described this orchid. Enchanted by the huge blossoms and unique color, Joseph Dalton Hooker wrote about this orchid in his book “Enchanted Orchid”.
blue vanda orchid
"VSansaiBlueAckersPride" by Jayfar is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Yet it was ten years later, in 1847 that John Lindley catalogued the Blue Vanda and it became “official.”

That is why this orchid is sometimes called

“Vanda Coruela Griffth ex Lindley”.
Due to its uncommon color, the Blue Vanda has been placed on a restriction list, not to travel across countries. CITES controls which orchids can travel across country borders, well as other flora and fauna.

The blue color is so rare, they initially thought it was only found in India. Since then, Blue Vanda has been found in southern China, Nepal, Northern Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and many other southeast Asian countries.

In 2005, once they realized they’re a lot more Blue Vandas growing in the wild than initially imagined, CITES lifted them off the endangered restrictions.

Now you can commercially buy and sell them within your own country. To travel with them in your baggage, you need to have a special permit form CITES. If you want more information, you can click on their website.

How to Grow Your Blue Orchid Vanda

If you’re interested in cultivating the Blue Vandas, first know that these orchids are for more experienced orchid growers, not newbies.

I personally recommend buying an easier to grow orchid first, like a Phalaenopsis or a Cattleya. Once you have experience in these species, then purchase a Vanda.

The only place I found them to sell was on orchidweb. Obs: This is not an affiliate link, nor do I have any monetary association with them. 
Vandas are extremely challenging to grow indoors. The temperature is the easiest to recreate indoors, so let’s start there. During the day, Blue Vandas prefer around 77ºF (25ºC), a few degrees more or less either way. During night, they like cooler temperatures, as do most orchids. You can drop the temperature to around 60ºF (16ºC), but not any more than that.
Blue Vanda Orchid
"Vanda coerulea" by Sue Waters is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
As for lighting, Blue Vanda Orchids are  high-light orchids, almost to an extreme, meaning they can take direct sun (except midday).

The artificial lights I use indoors, which are very good, don’t reach the minimum light requirements for Vandas, which in this particular case, are 3000 to 4000 foot candles. If you’re struggling a bit to grasp the terminology for lighting, check out this article to get a better understanding.

As for humidity, I could never get my home office more than 55% humidity, even with a humidifier. I agree that my humidifier is a smaller brand and I didn’t pay that much for it, but for my home office with a few orchids, it works great. If you want to research humidifiers, read this article about what humidifier is best for you.

But to keep a Vanda, you'll need 85% humidity. You know that smell of damp dirt when walking into a greenhouse or tropical rainforest exhibit at the local zoo? So, that’s what you’re aiming for. Blue Vandas either need an extra-big humidifier or a small greenhouse.

They are easily grown in hanging baskets, since their roots are thick, coarse and plentiful. The dangling roots are half the beauty of these plants, or any Vandas for that matter. Blue vanda’s roots are especially thick.

In your potting medium, you’ll want a thick, airy substrate to go with the size of the roots, in other words, coarse-grade bark. Vandas will need to be watered constantly, since the coarse grade bark should drain fast, and because Vanda’s love water—another reason they are harder to grow indoors.
If you have any questions, comments or know people who have Blue Vandas, please leave your ideas in the comments below. Also, if you have purchased a dyed Phalaenopsis orchid, how was your experience with it?
Signature Amanda Matthews
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ABOUT ME 
Amanda June Matthews at Orchideria
Hi, there! I'm Amanda Matthews.

I write all the tutorials on Orchideria so unfortunately, I can't blame anyone else for all the spelling mistakes.   :)

By profession, I'm a theologian, author, and seminary professor, yet I  spend my free time enjoying nature hikes, building terrariums, and cultivating orchids. I also love to mountain bike on trails, dance, and play with my dog, Max.

When I'm not working on the next chapter of my book or online course, I'm exploring a new campsite to venture out into nature. Pitching a tent for the weekend with my two children while I fire up a barbecue is the best way to live.

Click here to go to my Author Page to check out my heart-wrenching memoir.

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