Cultivating Orchids & Crafting Terrariums

What is an Orchid Node? & 9 Other Flower Spike Questions

When it comes to cutting the flower spike on orchids, a lot of questions and insecurities flourish, especially if this is the first time you’ve cut an orchid spike. How long should the spike be? Where should I cut it? How do I encourage reblooming? How long do I leave the spike? There is one basic element around the questions above circulate: the orchid node. So, let’s dive into what an orchid node is and go deeper from there.

An orchid node is a triangular growth nodule, forming an elevated budge on the flower spike where new growth can occur. New stems, buds, or flower spikes may develop from older orchid nodes.

Not all orchid nodes are productive, and in fact, most are dormant.

If something were to occur with the existing flower spike, like break off due to an accidental drop, a new flower spike can develop from the orchid node.
Orchid Nodes and Flower Spikes
Besides being an origin of new growth, orchid nodes are also a “plant booster” in the sense that orchid nodes concentrate more natural elements that fight off infections. Orchid nodes look similar to fish scales and sometimes grow plant tissue around them that imitates a tiny leaf.

If your orchid is healthy but gets infected from an open cut, bacterial will travel down through the spike aiming to get to the stem. Once the bacteria encounter an orchid node, the defense system takes over and attacks the bacteria.

Not all orchids are successful in fighting off pathogens this way, but it’s in the orchid node where this line of defense is most highly concentrated.

The space in between orchid nodes are called internodes. This is important to observe because it’s a good indication of how a healthy orchid should grow. When the plant has enough energy to produce new plant cells and develop a healthy flower spike, the distance between the nodes should be constant and somewhat equal.

A shorter distance between orchid nodes signifies something happened (lack of water, fertilizer, or sunlight) that didn’t give the orchid the quantity of nutrients it needs to keep producing steady growth. Once the flower spike is nearly all developed, the energy will be redirected to creating buds. This is evident by the decrease in the internodal distance toward the end, which drastically shortens.

In other plants, internodes are where pruners focus their cuts to form intricate and elegant plant designs, such as the bonsai design. The length of the internode will determine how well a plant can be timed to form intricate designs, imposing branch growth.

A pruner will never cut right on top of the plant node, knowing that this is extremely important to maintain intact. They won’t cut too far above it either, since this piece will wither and die off. They find the furthest node and make snipping accordingly, close to the node.
Orchid Node and Internode
Unlike other household plants and some crops and trees, orchid nodes don’t produce leaves as a normal cycle of life. They may sometimes produce leaves from the flower spike as a form of “keiki”, which is a baby orchid.

This new plant will develop into a distinct, mature plant over the course of a few years. You can read more about orchid keikis in this article, where I focused on the major questions about keikis. Keikis will develop from the orchid nodes on the flower spike (mostly in Phalaenopsis orchids), which is why it’s important to know where the orchid node is.

Nodes in other plants may also produce leaves or roots, but as a normal life cycle, not as an exception. In a Phalaenopsis orchid, the leaves will not branch from the flower spike nodes, only flower spikes and buds.

These questions are normal and you’re doing the right thing: searching for information and answers. That is the best action at this time: research. Let's get to the other 9 questions about flower spikes.

1. Is it an orchid spike or root?

Now that you know what an orchid node on the flower spike is, a related question occurs before that—long before. Is it a flower spike at all? When new growth develops our anxieties rise. Is it another root? Is it a flower spike? How can I tell the difference?

An orchid root will be soft, round, and light green. There are no hard, triangular bumps on it and the entire roots will change colors when it is watered.

As for the flower spike, it will develop in between the leaves, usually on the opposite side of the former spike, and be darker green or red. The end tip of a flower spike is sharper, pointier, and develop triangular spikes.

Depending on the orchid, the flower spike is thicker, but in the beginning, it will be fine, slim, and tender (easily breakable, too).

If you’re not sure whether the new growth is an aerial root (this article about aerial roots and why they’re important is a little guide I wrote about caring for aerial roots) then give the orchid time to tell you.

The orchid is in no rush, and you shouldn’t be either. It can grow out to the side, like most of my unruly Cattleya roots, or it will turn toward the light source, heading up toward the window or grow lights.

Either way, leave your orchid alone. This is the one most important rule in all orchid care—leave the plant alone. 😊 Too much tender loving care and you can suffocate the poor plant to its death.

You will be prone to over-watering, changing potting medium, trying full water cutler, adding fertilizer nutrients, and so on…

Orchids are not plants that like to be touched, interacted with, or even manipulated by humans. They like their space… So whether it be a root or a flower spike in formation, leave the orchid alone.

2. How long does it take to grow an orchid spike?

This answer will depend on the species and genus. I’ll take Phalaenopsis as my first example since it’s one of the most common orchids. From the moment the new growth appears, like a little bump on the side of the stem to the fully developed spike, it could be from 2 to 3 months.

If your Phalaenopsis orchids are outside the amount of sun will be more, which translates into more energy from Photosynthesis. They will grow faster, but this also depends on your region and the time of the year (season). In this article about the differences and observations about growing Phals outside, I detail more into the inside/outside transition.

3. What do I do with orchids when the flowers fall off?

You have two options when the buds fall off the spike, and what you want your orchid to do will direct your actions.

If you think your orchid has had a rough year and would benefit from a short rest, producing stronger roots, and focusing on establishing a healthy orchid, then cut your spike down to above the very first visible node near the stem.

Leave about half an inch to an inch (1.5 to 2.5cm) above the orchid node but not much more than that. This action of removing the green flower spike will force the orchid to focus its energy elsewhere, so root development starts.

If you want the orchid to attempt another flower and produce a bloom, then you’ll cut above the very last orchid node, leaving the majority of the stem intact. Since the orchid will not need the strength to grow an entire flower spike, it still can focus on sending energy to the very end of the spike.

This forced reblooming tactic doesn’t work with all orchids, but only orchids that rebloom naturally. Phalaenopsis orchids will rebloom above the last orchid node, and you can double the pleasure of seeing your orchid in bloom for longer periods overall.
Orchid Flower Spike
Image Credit: Orchideria 2020.
In this image, the Phalaenopsis Orchid has a flower spike that branched into 2. One has already flowered and is ready to cut, the other still is green and very much alive. In this case, it's best to wait until the flowers fall off the entire spike before cutting either. Better safe, than sorry.
This second method will place more stress on your orchid. It’s like you’re forcing your employees to work overtime without any added benefits or payoffs. The orchid’s energy drains from producing a new spike at the end, which could have been redirected for healthy root growth (which is more important).

We’ve gotten into a habit of forcing orchids to rebloom when we want them to. I read a lot of articles about how to get the most out of your orchid. I understand the reasoning behind this, we all want beautiful blooms, but...

The orchid if working double-time, and will display signs of being weaker after the second bloom has fallen off. Be sure to fertilize adequately and provide a good source of light and water during this process, since you’re placing your orchid through unnecessary stress. If you are emotionally okay with slowing down your orchid’s growth, then snip above the top orchid node, near the end of the spike.

Some orchids will naturally bloom twice a year (Vandas bloom three times a year but not on the same spike). Other orchids, and some but not all Phalaenopsis species included, will not ever rebloom. They are just genetically reprogrammed to not rebloom.

When you buy an orchid, check with the seller to get that specific information so you don’t place unnecessary stress on your orchid.

4. Where do you Cut an Orchid Node?

I think I got ahead of myself and answered this question with the third one, above. After your orchid has bloomed, find the orchid node closest to the stem. You are going to cut in the internodal section, leaving an inch or less above the node.

If you snip too far above the node, the portion of the root will rot instead of drying up. If you cut the flower spike too close to the node, there might not be enough room for the orchid to stand up a fir chance of fighting off infection.

This applies to Phalaenopsis and other monopodial orchids. If your orchid is sympodial, like a Cattleya, then you’ll want to snip the flower spike as close as you can to the pseudobulb, leaving just a little stump of a spike left. (Check out this article on orchid anatomy to better understand the difference between monopodial and sympodial orchids.) Be extremely careful not to cut the pseudobulb or do more damage to the leaf.
Cutting In between Orchid Nodes
Image Credit: Orchideria 2020.

5. How do you induce reblooming from the same spike?

To stimulate reblooming is not the best practice for your orchid unless you have specifically purchased an orchid that reblooms with vigor on the same spike. If your genus and species (Remember, Phals include some species that rebloom, other won’t) is a rebloomer, then, by all means, let’s do this!

Find the very last orchid node, before the actual spurt of flowers developed. You need to cut the old spike even if it’s still green above that last node. Apply a tad bit of cinnamon on the orchid cut, since you have severed live plant tissue and created an entry port for bacteria and microorganisms.

This will induce the orchid to evaluate its energy flow. Since the majority of the spike is still plump, juicy, and perfectly healthy, then it might aim for another bloom. You can induce and orchid to do what you want but whether it does or not, is up to the orchid.

6. How does cutting the spike induce root growth?

If you decide your orchid has done enough this year and deserves a small vacation for all it’s hard effort and work, then cut the spike back to the closest orchid node. This severing of the spike will automatically induce the orchid to work on root growth since new roots will be necessary for any future maturing of the plant.

Some orchid enthusiasts will not prune the flower spike, leaving it on until it turns brown, dry, and crispy. Then the flower spike breaks off with ease. I prefer this method because it doesn’t leave an open wound on the orchid, which is always a hazard in the long run.

While the spike dries, the energy is transported to the new growth, but this isn’t as automatic as just snipping it off while still green. New roots will grow, but it might take a little longer (a few weeks longer) to put out that effort. This is how the orchid grows and dies in nature, so I try to imitate that cycle.

I’ve read somewhere (can’t remember now where) that if you leave the spike on and let it turn brown, you risk a rotting spike. I have never had this happen to me—ever. I water and mist the same way I’ve always done, and never has a spike rotted or gone mushy on me.

I researched this too, unfortunately, to find no decent answers. I’m not sure if that theory has a scientific basis behind it, but I believe it doesn’t. If you have had this happen to you, please comment below so I can add that into the article.
Cutting above the orchid node

7. Where do you cut double spiked orchids?

Oh, lucky you! Double spikes! I bet your orchid was beautiful in bloom! For a double spiked orchid, sometimes I like to get a bit risky and try to cut one back at the stem above the orchid node, but the other spike, the healthier spike, I leave on the orchid, only cutting above the last node.

Don’t ever cut all the spikes at the end, inducing new growth on all the spikes. It’s hard enough for the orchid to rebloom, depleting its energy supply. If you induce spike growth on all the spikes, you’ll be stressing your orchid to its maximum.

If you can, and this is what I do most, is to leave the spikes on until they turn brown, then remove them. Yes, it’s unsightly and doesn’t fit the floral decor, but it’s the healthiest way to keep tour orchid productive. You also need to take into account what the orchid did last year. Did it rebloom last year too? If yes, it might be time to let your orchid rest.

Even God gave a 7-year sabbatical rule, to not plant the ground year after year, allowing the soil to rest. This rule still applies to modern-day farming, as farmers rotate the crops on the field (I’m from Kansas, so this part I’m pretty familiar with 😊).

So, please don’t force your orchid to rebloom year after year with no break. Even if your orchid has double spikes, just pick one to induce reblooming and cut the other one back.

8. When to Leave the Orchid Spike On?

After all the blooms have fallen off, the spike will naturally start to shrivel. The browning starts at the tip and works its way back to the stem, relocating the energy that is in the spike to other places. Leaving the spike on the orchid will not hurt or hinder the orchid in any way.

If you see a bacterial infection, fungus, or mold developing of the spent flower spike, then cut the spike back to above the very first node. In smaller Phalaenopsis, this is less than an inch. In bigger Phals, this could be three to four inches. You don’t want to risk the bacteria spreading to the stem, and removing the entire stem is the best option.

Otherwise, in all other cases, it’s best to leave the stem on even if it’s unsightly and ugly. When it’s completely dry, then remove it.
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9. Can you replant an orchid flower spike

Let’s say the Phalaenopsis orchid has a beautiful blossom but my clumsy but loving dog Max comes in my home office, and—wham! The orchid pot is one place and the flower spike is another.

I’ve tried to use glue, tape, sphagnum moss, and even the Sphag and bag method mentioned here to reattached the orchid to the spike. I’ve seen it done, but that’s just not my gift, I guess.

If placed in water, will the flower spike grow into a healthy orchid? No. I’ve only had this work if the break had a part of the stem on it. The stem is the vital part of the orchid, and is what keeps the orchids alive.

You can have root rot, and rescue the orchid. You can have leaf rot, and still rescue it. But once your orchid gets stem rot, it’s almost impossible. There has to be a stem to make any progress in rescuing orchids. I’ve never had success with just the spike.

You can read about the Sphag and bag method here, where I explain how to revive an orchid that has been seriously damaged. Again, the orchids I’ve revived always had at least part of the stem.

So I place the broken spike in a glass vase and resist the urge to cry.

Dendrobiums are notorious to have grown roots from broken canes, but they have the energy supply stored in the cane to do so. A cane is another form of a pseudobulb, just thinner.

A flower spike by itself is almost impossible (emphasis on almost—give it a try, you’ve got nothing to lose) to revive to the point of growing again.

Orchids aren’t worms that you split in half and they’ll be ok. <-- That’s actually a myth by the way. The head portion survives growing a new tail, but the tail portion doesn’t grow a new head. In this sense, orchids don’t “regrow” either… Once that flower spike is severed, it’s gone.

Enjoy your cut orchids while you can and design the cut portion into a floral design. Why not?
Orchid nodes are important when it comes to fighting off bacteria, motioning the growth development of the orchid, and knowing where to cut the flower spike after the blooms have fallen off. If there is something that I missed in this article, please mention it in the comments below. I'm by no means an orchid expert, but learn so much by interacting with other orchid growers.

 If you want to know more about orchid nodes, this article, "Where do I cut the flower spike when it is finished?" written by the American Orchid Society is an good place to start.

Happy Cultivating!
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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