Here's everything you need to know about the disa orchid, what it looks like, its growing conditions, uses, and some of its species. We've included great tips on how to grow these show-stopping ornamentals that are a wonderful addition to your own garden.
The genus disa consists of 182 flowering plant species that are part of the orchid (orchidaceae) botanical family. There are two types of orchids: terrestrial and epiphytic.
Epiphytic orchids grow from tree branches by clinging on by their roots. A terrestrial orchid grows from the ground, which is the case with the disa orchid.
Most of the disa orchid species are indigenous to the tropical regions of South Africa, though there are some that are native to Madagascar and the Arabian Peninsula.
Knowing this, it isn’t too hard to guess that the disa orchid has some pretty specific growing conditions. Many expert level gardeners refuse to try and attempt growing their own disa orchid because they are so high maintenance. So, beware! Folks say it is best to just forget what you think about growing orchids when it comes to the disa species.
If this flowering plant species seems like its more fuss than you’re into, don’t fret! We’ve compiled a long list of Beautiful Flowering Plants where you’ll find something as equally beautiful, but not so gosh darn particular!
Table of Contents
- Genus Disa
- What are Some Disa Species?
- What do Disa Orchids Look Like?
- Where is the Disa Orchid Native to?
- What are the Growing Conditions for Disa Orchids?
- How are Disa Species Used?
What are Some Disa Species?
Known as the golden disa, disa aurata can be found in the Cape Province of South Africa. They grow along stream banks and wet mountain slopes up to 1000 metres in altitude. This variety produces stunning golden yellow flowers.
Disa cardinalis can be found in the Western Cape of South Africa. It is an extremely rare flower and can usually only be seen growing along stream banks on the northern slopes of Langeberg. This variety produces brilliant red flowers.
Known as the arrow shaped disa, this plant can be found growing in South Africa in rocky crevasses or along mountain streams. This variety is smaller and produces white flowers with light purple accents.
Disa tripetaloides can be found growing along mountain streams in the Western Cape of South Africa. This is a smaller species of terrestrial evergreen orchid that produces white flowers with pink dotted accents.
Disa forficaria can be found growing at high elevations in the Western Cape of South Africa on wet banks and mountain streams. This is an extremely rare variety of disa orchid that produces maroon and green flowers with dark red banding.
What do Disa Orchids Look Like?
Disa orchid flowers are exceptionally beautiful. If you’re willing to put in the effort, these blossoms will be well worth it. Depending on the species, colors can range from white, yellow, orange, red, pink, lavender, or blue.
Disa flowers emerge from a flower shoot. They are comprised of sepals instead of petals, with the dorsal sepals being the largest and showiest part of the flower. They will usually be decorated with some form of spot or stripe of a different color.
The disa orchid is a stunning and unique specimen. Sometimes looking at an orchid up close is so mystifying that it is difficult to believe something so complex and unusual could be possibly be a flower!
Disa leaves are borne as rosettes at the base of the plant. Leaf size will vary depending on the species, though leaves are usually dark green and a glossy color. The flower stalk will emerge from the centre of these low lying leaf rosettes.
Disa orchids can achieve heights anywhere between 12 and 36 inches. A striking flower can be found at the top of a long and slender flower stem which grows from the centre of a ground hugging rosette of leaves. This plant grows from an underground tuber root system.
The orchid genus disa can be separated into 2 distinct groups based on the size of the disa seed that flowers produce once they are pollinated. Disa uniflora produces large and round seeds that can be almost 1.5mm long, whereas all other species produce seeds that are less than 0.7mm long.
Where is the Disa Orchid Native to?
Disa orchids are a native plant to South Africa in the most warm and tropical places. There are also some species that have been growing in Madagascar and the Arabian Peninsula.
The disa species has very specific growing requirements. When growing in the wild, they will only grow along mountain streams with the freshest water. They can only growing in USDA growing zone 8, and no where else.
What are the Growing Conditions for Disa Orchids?
Okay. Get ready. You’ve made it this far, meaning that you’re still curious about what it actually takes to grow a disa orchid.
We’re gonna be straight with you. This is one of the most high maintenance plants you could possibly choose to grow. There isn’t a single aspect that they are lenient about and maintaining those conditions is basically a full time job.
Let’s get started with soil type. The mineral composition of the soil is very important when it comes to disa orchids. First things first, soil must be well drained (sand mixed with your potting mix is helpful).
They are extremely sensitive to minerals and salt, and it would be best to get yourself a meter to measure the content of the soil.Your Total Dissolved Solids meter (TDS) should read less than 200-300 ppm.
The next condition is acidity. Disas prefer to have an acidic pH level. You can achieve this by incorporating sphagnum moss or peat moss to your potting mix or growing medium.
Sun exposure is one of the lesser difficult aspects to maintain for the disa orchid. They love to live in full sun conditions and can tolerate direct sunlight as long as roots don’t become overheated. Partial shade is possible, but slightly risky.
You can protect the disa roots by covering the soil with a thick layer of mulch. This will help keep the soil at a lower temperature, while also maintaining moisture levels in the soil.
Okay, now we get to the trickiest growing condition for the disa plant: water maintenance. Disa orchids need water, but they need a specific type of water and diligent watering practices.
Knowing that these plants only grow in the wild along mountain streams indicate that they need extremely fresh water. In order to achieve this type of water, either go to the store every day and buy gallons of distilled water, collect rain water, or get yourself a reverse osmosis system.
Disa orchids need to be watered every single day. Soil should be completely saturated, but at the same time it needs to be well drained because these plants are very susceptible to root rot.
The easiest way to keep them properly watered is by either setting them in buckets of water, or by manufacturing some type of water table where a flow over water can be constantly flowing over their roots.
Another particularity about the disa orchid is its temperature. Though they can tolerate occasional temperatures of up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, their soil temperature should never reach above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. They can only exist in USDA growing zone 8.
When it comes to pruning, it only needs to be done once the plant has finished flowering. This is because new flower stems will emerge the following year, and the previous years growth will rot in the pot.
Simply remove older growth from the previous flowering season and repot in the fall. This way the pot won’t be cramped, and there will be lesser risk or root rot.
Disa orchids love organic fertilizer. They respond very well to it, and it gives the gardener a better chance at success. Incorporate a well balance fertilizer once a week during the plants’ blooming and growing season.
Once the plant dies back come autumn, you can cut back to fertilizing once every couple of weeks when its not in its growing season.
So, if you hadn’t gathered by now, disa plants have a lot of intolerances. You must approach growing this plant with patience and an open mind, and remember the following things:
Disa orchids are drought intolerant, cold intolerant, mineral intolerant, salt intolerant, shade intolerant… And that’s about it. But hey! At least they aren’t flood intolerant!
How are Disa Species Used?
If one has the patience and know-how to raise a disa orchid, it makes for a striking, unique, and show stopping ornamental plant. However, this ornamental appeal is very short lived, as certain flower species only bloom for a few short days – but this makes for a lovely cut flower. Cultivation is not particularly popular in regions outside of South Africa, as imitating its natural growing conditions is incredibly difficult.
Disa orchids attract various pollinator species like bees, wasps, sunbirds, and butterflies to their flower by their strong smelling nectar. However, there is a very interesting relationship that emerged between the disa forficaria variety and longhorn beetles.
There are several carnivorous plants, like the sarracenia (pitcher plant), that are able to imitate the pheromones of certain insect species. They do this so that the pollen of their flowers is attached to the insect after their visit, or so that they can digest the insect itself.
A recent discovery revealed that disa forficaria flowers release the same pheromone chemical as longhorn beetles to fool the the insect into “mating” with it! The purpose of this is for the longhorn beetle to transport pollen from flower to flower for successful pollination.