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How to Identify Orchid Viruses

September 17, 2012

If your orchid comes down with a bacterial or fungal disease or is attacked by pests, there’s a reasonable chance that you can treat the problem and nurse your orchid back to health. Viral infections are trickier. Just like the human cold virus, there’s no cure for plant viruses. Prevention is your best protection against orchid viruses.

When Viruses Attack 

Worldwide, orchids are subject to attack by about 30 different viruses, although many are regional or most deadly to a specific orchid species. Viruses can be transmitted from other plants, mites, nematodes and flying insects such as aphids and thrips; but poor tool sanitation when handling plants is the most common cause of virus infection. 

In Phalaenopsis orchids, common virus symptoms include: 

  • loss of plant vigor
  • pale, brownish or colorless streaks on orchid leaves and flowers
  • color breaks (variations in petal color) on flower petals
  • patches of dead tissue on leaves or flowers
  • downward curling leaf edges 

Treating Your Infected Orchid 

If your orchid develops any of these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean that your orchid has contracted a virus. Some virus symptoms are also associated with other plant conditions. Laboratory testing is the only way to definitively diagnose plant viruses, but testing is only reasonable for commercial orchid growers and hobbyists with extensive or valuable plant collections. For casual orchid collectors, the best course of action is to immediately isolate any orchid plant that shows signs of illness until you can determine what the problem is. 

You can turn to some of our previous posts if you would like more information about caring for infected or sick orchids. 

Next time: How to prevent and treat orchid viruses