Subscribe to our blog to get articles delivered directly to your inbox

Orchid Plant Care: What Are Air Roots?

August 17, 2022

 If some of your orchid’s roots are beginning to grow above the surface of the growing medium, your orchid has air roots. Also known as aerial roots, the sight of these above-soil roots may make you worry that your orchid has outgrown its pot or that you've neglected a basic orchid plant care practice.

As a general rule, Phalaenopsis orchids only need to be repotted every year or two, so before you rush off to repot your orchid, let’s take a look at how orchid air roots develop and grow and what you can do to keep your orchid healthy.

What are Air Roots?

Air roots are normal in Phalaenopsis and other epiphyte orchids. Epiphytes grow on other plants, such as a tree in a tropical rainforest. 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 tropic environment, Phalaenopsis orchids cling to tree branches high above the jungle floor as they attempt to reach the light filtering through the leafy canopy. The indirect sunlight is more plentiful above ground.

Unlike other plants that attach themselves to trees, Phalaenopsis orchids are not parasitic. Instead, they use their roots to absorb nutrients from the air, absorbing moisture and obtaining carbon dioxide they need to thrive! 

Healthy Air Roots for Optimal Orchid Plant Care

When examining the roots of your Phalaenopsis orchid, you will notice that they're thick and coated with a spongy material. Called velamen, this material is like a thin ‘skin’ that helps the plant absorb nutrients, such as water and nitrogen, while also keeping it attached to tree bark.

When Phalaenopsis orchid roots are healthy, velamen is silvery-white, round and plump and the air roots are firm and white. You should definitely not remove healthy air roots. There’s a good chance you can harm your plant. You could even introduce a dangerous virus.

In homes with low humidity, air roots can turn yellow and shrivel. If this occurs, wait until your orchid stops blooming, and then use a sterile knife or scissors to cut away the shriveled roots.

There’s also the chance your plant is outgrowing your pot. If you need to repot your plant,  watch our video for easy repotting tips.

Want to deepen your orchid plant care knowledge? Download the guide below!Root Health Guide