Mazlan acquired his love of gardening at a young age, and it has been his passion for over 55 years.
My Grammatophyllum speciosum, commonly known as tiger orchid, blooms only once and that was way back in the year 2000. It was a real pleasure to see the flowering stalks as I had this plant for almost 20 years before it flowers.
I almost gave up but I was determined to try any methods to see it blooms again.
If you too had difficulty in nursing your Grammatophyllum speciosum to bloom, don't give up as you will never know one day it will happen.
I tried several commercial chemical fertilizers but without success. Finally, I decided to experiment with a few concoctions of organic fertilizers, and voila! I was lucky as within two months it started to produce four flowering stalks.
Before I share this success story, let's take a quick look at Tiger Orchid.
What is Tiger Orchid?
Largest Orchid Plant in the World
Tiger orchid, or the scientific name Grammatophyllum speciosum, is the world's largest orchid plant. It typically grows up to 3 meters long but some specimens recorded impressive heights of 7.62 meters (25 ft) making it the world's tallest orchid, as per Guinness Book of World Records.
It is usually found in the wild in lowland forests near streams. It can also be found in areas of altitude up to 1200 meters above sea level and can tolerate temperatures from +6 C to + 40 C.
Unfortunately, it blooms only once every three to four years. Sadly for some of us, this is not the case. It may take even longer time to bloom!
Largest Orchid Flower in the World
The many flowered inflorescences carry 30 to 80 flowers and the lowest flowers are usually imperfect but act as the scent gland for the entire inflorescence. It emits chemical scents to attract pollinators such as bees.
The brown and yellow-colored flowers have dark red spots and can grow up to 3.9 inches or 10 cm wide and is the biggest orchid in the world. It is called 'Tiger Orchid' for its striking brown and yellow flower patterns that resemble tiger stripes. Its flowering stalk can bear up to 80 flowers.
This lithophytic plant can grow to an enormous size with gigantic clusters weighing up to two tonnes. The long-lasting flowers remain in bloom for up to two months, forming attractive foliage.
The orchid flower has a mild and pleasant fragrance that smells like a cross between jasmine and ylang-ylang flowers.
The name 'Tiger Orchid' is used for other orchid varieties as well, namely:
- Maxillaria, which is native to tropical and subtropical America.
- Rossioglossum grande, which is native to Mexico and Honduras.
- Diuris sulphurea, native to eastern Australia.
- Elleanthus, native to tropical America.
The Tiger Orchid that I am referring to in this article is Grammatophyllum Speciosum, which is native to Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea. Some of the local people also refer to Grammatophyllum speciosum as sugar cane orchid, giant orchid, and queen of the orchids.
Organic Fertilizer for Tiger Orchids
There are many items that you can use as organic fertilizers. Some can be bought off the shelf and some are available in your own kitchen or even backyard.
I used the following items which are a combination of things that I bought and things that I recycled from our daily use.
- Chicken and Goat Manure
- Tea Water
- Rice Water
- Banana Peels
1. Chicken and Goat Manure
I used goat and chicken manures in dried and pelleted form as part of my organic fertilizer concoction for my Tiger Orchids.
These manures are packed and sold under various proprietary names. Some of these brands are mixed with other ingredients or fillers that do little to add potency to the manure.
I got mine from the Thursday night market in Keramat, Kuala Lumpur and even though it has no propriety name and no nutrient content quoted, it is reliable and worked very well on my plants.
Chicken manure is higher in nitrogen and actual nutrient contents can vary. Generally, the composition of the dried and pelleted form is about N 4%, P 2%, and K 1% i.e. nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium respectively.
The dried and pelleted goat manure is about N 1.5%, P 1.0%, and K 1.8%, i.e. higher in potassium, which is useful for flowering.
My Tiger Orchid Blooming
2. Tea Water as Fertilizer
I recycle used tea bags by soaking them in water for a few days and then using it to water the Tiger Orchid plant. Tea is rich in nitrogen and potassium, which are useful ingredients for plant growth and flowering.
Instead of using plain water to water the plant, tea water that is rich in nutrients will give good plant growth and beautiful flowers.
3. Rice Water as Fertilizer
Rice water is another nutrient-rich water that I used to water and fertilize my Tiger Orchid.
If you cook rice on a regular basis, the water you use to wash the rice before cooking can be reused as fertilizer.
The water has traces of thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, and folic acid, which are necessary for healthy plant growth. It is even more effective if you put it aside for a day to ferment, before watering the Tiger Orchid plant.
Some people use water that rice has been boiled in but I find it a hassle and prefer the water that you use to wash or rinse the rice before cooking.
Is brown or normal white rice better? Although brown rice contains a higher dosage of thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, and folic acid I use the normal white basmati rice. So, if you eat brown rice then you get better quality rice water for your orchid.
Be mindful though not to overwater the orchid plant as this can lead to other watering problems.
4. Banana Peels as Fertilizer
We have bananas almost every day for breakfast and I use the banana peels, which are rich in phosphorus and potassium as fertilizer for the tiger orchids.
I will either mash or blend it and mix it with either tea water or rice water before watering the plant.
Banana peels will not only promote flowering but give strong colors to your flowers.
Organic Fertilizer Concoction
The above are the only items that I used as organic fertilizer for my Tiger Orchid plant.
Tiger Orchid Rebloom
When I first used them way back in the year 2000, I did not give this organic concoction much credit, when the plant bloomed. When I started to use it again after a long spell of almost 13 years and it blooms again, I was dead certain that this 'recipe' works and is responsible for the Tiger orchid to rebloom.
My Tiger Orchid, Stages of Flowering
Applying Organic Fertilizers to Tiger Orchid Plant
Applying the Goat and Chicken Manure
I apply the goat and chicken manure to the Tiger Orchid plant on an alternate week basis. Before sprinkling the pellets over the root system, I water the plant first. This will thoroughly wet the roots for easier absorption of the nutrients.
After sprinkling the pellets, I water the plant again directing the water to where the pellets are.
Applying Rice Water to Grammatophyllum Speciosum
As we eat rice every day, we have a daily supply of rice water. I do not use it immediately but will leave it overnight to water the Tiger Orchid plant in the morning.
This short 'fermentation' period helps convert the rice water into fertilizer.
If we have banana peels, we will either mash or blend them and mix them into the rice water, which will then be used to water the Tiger Orchid plant.
Applying Tea Water
I will recycle tea leaves and tea bags by soaking them in water for at least three days.
I then use it to water the plant in the evening. As we do not drink tea on a regular basis, the supply of tea water is not as frequent as rice water.
I will also mix this tea water with the mashed banana peels when it is available.
On the days that I apply the goat or chicken manure, I will not use rice and tea water.
Tiger Orchid Plant in My Garden
Tiger Orchid Grammatophyllum Speciosum Care
I flush out the plant's root with plain water at a quarterly interval to remove any possible accumulation of mineral salts.
The accumulation of mineral salts is associated more with chemically processed fertilizers but I still do regular flushing, just in case. Anyway, soluble salts are also present in the tap water you use to water the plant.
The danger of salts build up if it is not flushed away, is harm to your tiger orchid plant. Its sensitive feeder roots can burn away from any high salt concentration. The damaged root will start to rot and will slowly kill the plant.
During the rainy season, I will skip this as the rainwater will hopefully flush out these salts.
Lights and Water
Tiger Orchids prefer full sun but will also tolerate partial shade. But for Tiger Orchid to flower, it requires lots of sunlight and heat. Don't overwater the orchid plant, an occasional misting is better.
Tiger Orchid, being native to tropical countries, loves warm and humid weather, ideally above 50%. If you live in temperate countries, then increase the humidity level during the summer months and with good air circulation.
Try This Organic Fertilizer Concoction
If you had difficulty in getting your Tiger Orchid to bloom, try this organic fertilizer concoction. I am sure you will experience the same results as I had.
Cat Litters as Fertilizer for Tiger Orchids?
When a friend heard of my organic fertilizer concoction and saw the blooms, he told me the result was not as spectacular as his tiger orchid plant.
I agreed. The first time my Tiger Orchid bloomed, it had four flowering stalks. This time around in 2014, it produced only one flowering stalk. Although the result is not that impressive I was still proud as I could get it to flower.
My friend used cat litters as his 'organic fertilizer' and had more flowering stalks and better and bigger flowers.
It sounds disgusting but instead of throwing away the used litter, which is rich in nitrogen from the cat urine, he put it to good use in his garden.
He was not worried about pathogens from the poop as the free-range cat will deposit them in the garden anyway. To him, it costs him 'nothing' as he has to buy the cat litter anyhow.
I have not tried this but I have seen the results and I have to admit, it was more impressive.
My Friend's Tiger Orchid Plant
Close-Up of My Friend's Tiger Orchid Plant
More Info on Grammatophyllum Speciosum
Tiger Orchid not only produces the largest orchid flower in the world but is the heaviest orchid plant in the world. It can weigh up to 1,814 kg or 2 tons or more.
The plant has impressive root bundles and the pseudobulbs (cane-like stems) can grow to 3 m (9.8 feet) or more. In its natural habitat in the jungles of Southeast Asia, it grows on other trees for support. It is not parasitic but is self-sustaining for its nutrients. You can also find Tiger Orchid growing on rocky surfaces.
The plant is sometimes called sugarcane orchid as it resembles a sugar cane plant.
Scientific Classification and Biogeography
Plant Division: Angiosperms
Plant Growth Form: Epiphyte
Mode of Nutrition: Autotrophic
Native Distribution: Often found in Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Philippines, etc.), Bismarck Islands, Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea
Native Habitat: Lowland forests near streams
Tiger Orchid Blooms
When Tiger Orchid blooms everyone gets excited and cannot wait to see this unpredictable largest flower in the world, live.
Why? Because it is difficult to get it to flower. When it does, it becomes a news item.
Some of the reported flowerings of Tiger Orchids are in the following cities:
Tiger Orchid Blooms in Brooklyn
In 2011, a rare and beautiful event happened at Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) in New York City. Its Grammatophyllum speciosum bloomed for the third time since it took up residence at BBG an impressive feat as even in its natural habitat in South East Asia it blooms infrequently.
The bloom is very impressive with a display of 17 flower stalks and hundreds of Tiger Orchid flowers. See the photo below.
The accompanying video was when it bloomed in 2008. Unfortunately, I could not find the video of the 2011 blooms.
Tiger Orchid Blooms in BBG
Tiger Orchid Blooms in Singapore
Wild Tiger Orchids were extinct in Singapore due to their fast development that took place all over the island. In 1999, the government started to introduce the plant again and in March 2013, 20 of the 800 Tiger Orchid plants that were reintroduced to the island started to flower.
These flowering plants were seen not in the 'wilder part' of Singapore but were in public parks, at the road dividers, and in other public spaces.
The 2013 blooms were at Holland Road in the middle of road diver and at East Coast Park. See the accompanying video.
Tiger Orchid Blooms in Singapore
Tiger Orchid Blooms at Poring Hot Spring in Sabah, Malaysia
In May 2013, the Grammatophyllum Speciosum or Tiger Orchid bloomed at Poring Hot Spring in Kinabalu Park, Sabah, Malaysia. See the photo below.
Poring Hot Spring & Nature Reserve is not only famous for its hot water spring but has an excellent collection of rare tropical plants, rare butterflies, over 500 species of orchids, and the world's largest flower, the Rafflesia. (Note: Tiger Orchid is the world largest orchid flower)
It is located at the foothill of Malaysia's highest mountain, Mt. Kinabalu.
FAQs on Grammatophyllum Speciosum
Is Tiger Orchid an Epiphyte?
Tiger Orchids are epiphyte and in the wild, they grow on trees. So, ideally, you should plant them as an epiphyte, but they can also be planted in a large pot with well-drained soils. Bear in mind that their strong rapid growing root system often breaks ordinary pots. You can also plant tiger orchids in wooden baskets to allow free airflow.
Where Can I Buy a Tiger Orchid?
Some orchid nurseries do stock the cultivated specimens or you can buy the tiger orchids online. I have seen them on Lazada and Shopee but not on Amazon.
When Should a Grammatophyllum be Repotted?
I use a large container and have never repotted my Grammatophyllum Speciosum simply because it is quite tedious. But if you need to do so, wet the soil completely, or if you can soak the pot, then soak it for 15 minutes. This will minimize root damage and easier to cut the root area. Then cut through the rhizome and separate the large clumps with the pseudobulbs attached and pot them separately in grammatophyllum potting mix.
If you are lucky and it was flowering then wait until all flowers have ceased before you follow the above steps. I usually use hardwood charcoal as the potting mix. If you are in temperate countries, you can also use coarse fir bark, tree fern, or lava rock but the potting medium must be well-drained to prevent watering problems.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2014 Mazlan A
Alice Sawyer on February 22, 2018:
Wow. I have not seen this type of orchids before. It's really beautiful. Alas I can only admire it in pictures and video only.
Mazlan A (author) from Malaysia on August 22, 2016:
Hi, Parry. Wow, that's fantastic to have tiger orchids to bloom once a year. I have not driven down to Singapore for a long time, mainly due to our poor RM but if I do I must pop over to Serangoon reservoir. But isn't this place out of bounds to the public?
Parry Chua on August 21, 2016:
You can see Tiger Orchid at Serangoon Reservoir. I notice the flower bloom once a yesr in the past 3 years.
Mazlan A (author) from Malaysia on May 11, 2016:
Hi, Kristle K
Sorry for the late reply. I fertilize it weekly as I use organic fertilizer. Not too much, though. I water it every evening after back from work, usually at abt 9pm.
Kristle K on March 30, 2016:
tx for your article. May I know how often you fertilize your Tiger Orchid? And what about watering esp when we are having heat wave in Malaysia? Thanks yo!
Chen on August 20, 2015:
Thank you so much for this great article!
I'll try and tell you the results.
Now my tiger orchid is not that big but I can wait
Karen on August 17, 2014:
Thank you thank you for this article it has helped me immensely. My tiger orchid has different leaves and only flowered 1 time in 2011 after having it for 5 years. But it was truly spectacular. I have pics. I am going to try all of the organic tips and will let you know what happens.
Mazlan A (author) from Malaysia on January 26, 2014:
@teaches12345, thanks. The problem that I have is getting rid of the pesky bugs off my orchids. They seem to be around when the orchids start to flower!
Dianna Mendez on January 24, 2014:
You certainly put a lot of hard work into these beautiful flowers. They are so exotic in appearance. I love orchids in general, but find them hard to grow. Perhaps with your suggestions, it would be easier.
Mazlan A (author) from Malaysia on January 20, 2014:
@Sage, thanks for the compliments. Kitty litter may sounds disgusting, but since posting this article and reading the comments, I goggled and found out that people ARE using used litters as fertilizer!
I have not been to BBG, but I am sure it is a nice place for a 'meditative retreat'
@Glimmer TF, hahaha, actually my garden is in mess! The heliconias (behind the Tiger orchid) are due for 'pruning' since 2012! Thanks for the visit and comment and pls share your experience on the Pittsburgh orchid show; look forward to this article!
@tirelesstraveler, cat litter as fertilizer was new to me as well and I wasn't sure of it until my friend showed me the results!
So what happened to the orchid ranch?
@AliciaC, I loved the Tiger orchid's fragrance as it smells almost like my two favorite fragrant flowers, the jasmine and ylang-ylang; both are in our garden.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 18, 2014:
This hub is very interesting as well as very helpful! The tiger orchid's flowers are beautiful. I've never grown orchids, but I'd love to try. Thank you for sharing all the great tips.
Judy Specht from California on January 18, 2014:
There used to be a famous orchid ranch near my home. I used to love to go there on crummy days. It always smelled so good. I have heard of all kinds of organic fertilizers, but the cat litter is a new one. Nice work.
Claudia Porter on January 18, 2014:
These orchids are absolutely beautiful. Near here in Pittsburgh the botanical gardens is just starting their annual orchid show which we enjoy attending. I'm impressed with your lovely flowers. Looks like your garden is beautiful
Mackenzie Sage Wright on January 18, 2014:
This article is awesome! Wow, I never heard of using kitty litter as fertilizer, what a great tip! And your mention of the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens brought tears to my eyes because I grew up in Brookly and the BBG was my 'happy place'. I'd escape there often just to recharge, spend days there with my daughter when she was born-- I haven't been there in over 10 years since I moved out of NYC and I miss it. Beautiful images, too. Great hub!