Orchid Care: What are Air Roots?

Orchid Care: What are Air Roots?

If you are new to Phalaenopsis orchids, the first time you notice some of your orchid’s roots beginning to grow or loop above the surface of the growing medium, you may worry that your orchid has become pot-bound and is in need of repotting. This is a common error. As a rule, Phalaenopsis orchids only need to be repotted every year or two. What you are more likely observing is the growth of “air roots.” 

What are Air Roots?

Airborne roots are normal in Phalaenopsis and other epiphyte orchids. Unlike terrestrial orchids that root in the earth, epiphyte orchids grow above the ground, using their roots to attach themselves to tree branches. In their native tropics, Phalaenopsis orchids can be found clinging to tree branches high above the jungle floor where the light filtering through the leafy canopy is more plentiful.

Unlike other plants that attach themselves to trees, Phalaenopsis orchids are not parasitic. Epiphyte orchids use their airborne roots to absorb the moisture and carbon dioxide they need to thrive directly from the air. If you examine the roots of your Phalaenopsis orchid, you will notice that they are thick and coated with a spongy material that both aids adherence to tree bark and nutrient absorption. In homes with low humidity, air roots can turn yellow and shrivel. Should this occur, wait until your orchid stops blooming, then use a sterile knife or scissors to cut away the shriveled roots.

Caring for Air Roots

To view of healthy air roots and determine whether it’s time to repot your orchid, watch our orchid care video about repotting your Phalaenopsis orchid

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