How to Grow Brassavola Orchids (Lady of the Night)

Brassavola orchids with white heart-shaped flowers with spear-like sepals closeup

The Spruce / Phoebe Cheong

Brassavola orchid (Brassavola nodosa), commonly referred to as Lady of the Night, is known for its strong, citrusy nighttime fragrance and heart-shaped white flowers. These fast-growing plants can be purchased year-round. They are frequent bloomers, with the heaviest blooms in the fall or winter. What their flowers lack in size (they're relatively small compared to the more showy Cattleya and Phalaenopsis), they make up for in sheer quantity.

Common Name Brassavola orchid, Lady of the Night
Botanical Name  Brassavola nodosa
Family Orchidaceae
Plant Type Perennial
Mature Size 3.5 - 6 in. tall and wide
Sun Exposure  Partial 
Soil Type  Well-drained 
Soil pH  Neutral to acidic, acidic 
Bloom Time  Spring, summer, fall, winter
Flower Color  White 
Hardiness Zones  9-11 (USDA)
Native Area  South America, Central America

Brassavola Orchids Care

These are not especially challenging orchids to grow—if you can grow any of the epiphytic orchids with success, you can grow these. They grow readily in baskets, mounted, or in containers with a soilless orchid mix.

Brassavola orchids have long, thin, tubular leaves that can reach up to a foot in length and sometimes appear unrolled or flattened. Brassavola orchids and their hybrids have much smaller pseudobulbs than other epiphytic orchids, so the leaves often appear to arise directly from the rhizome without a thick pseudobulb. The typical Brassavola flower features an enlarged, scoop-like lip with petals and sepals that have narrowed into spear-like shapes.

White brassavola orchids on mossy tree trunk with white petals and long leaves

The Spruce / Phoebe Cheong

Brassavola orchids with spear-like sepals around white heart-shaped petals on stems

The Spruce / Phoebe Cheong

Light

Brassavola orchids typically like fairly strong, bright light, even with some direct sunlight.

Soil

Use a fresh, commercial soilless potting mix specifically for orchids with loose, natural materials like orchid bark, sphagnum moss, lava rock, or tree fern that provides fast drainage.

Water

The tubular leaves on Brassavola are designed to reduce water transpiration, making them more drought tolerant than many other orchids. As a result, the plants need less humidity and less frequent water than many other epiphytic orchids. However, when watering, consider chlorine-free water; Brassavola orchids are sensitive to the chlorine and other chemicals in tap water.

As with all orchids, the frequency of watering depends on your growing culture. Mounted Brassavola orchids can be drenched in water about five times a week during the growing cycle. Potted Brassavola orchids should be thoroughly soaked weekly but this particular orchard prefers its potting medium to dry out slightly between waterings. Avoid getting the leaves wet when watering.

Temperature and Humidity

Brassavola orchids prefer intermediate to warm temperatures and will bloom better on the warmer end of the scale. Plan on daytime temperatures of 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit and night temperatures that go no lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit or the plant won't flower.

Fertilizer

Feed your orchid throughout the year with a weak fertilizer solution (quarter-strength weekly). Many growers fashion "fertilizer balls" from nylon hose and controlled-release pellets, then tie the ball of pellets over the plant, thus providing a small dose of fertilizer every time the plant is watered. Nylon fertilizer balls will last a few months.

Types of Brassavola Orchids

There are about 17 species of Brassavola, all native to the American tropics. The standard and most common of these is Brassavola nodosa. Brassavola are related to Cattleya and Rhyncholaelia and have been extensively hybridized to create many new species, including the colorful and common Brassolaeliocattleya orchids. A few eye-catching species of Brassavola include the following:

  • Brassavola grandiflora, as its name would suggest, is much larger than Brassavola nodosa. Its leaves appear more spread out and flattened.
  • Brassavola cucullata has a distinct look of long, slender leaves and is commonly called the "daddy long legs orchid" because of it.
  • Brassavola cordata is a plant native to Jamaica. The blooms are both smaller and more floriferous than those of Brassavola nodosa.

Propagating Brassavola Orchids

Germinating seeds and taking cuttings will not work well to propagate a Brassavola orchid. The surest to duplicate this type of orchid is to divide it in the spring, or when it is not flowering, for the best timing. Brassavola are fast-growing orchids and will quickly begin to yield divisions, called pseudobulbs. Here's how to divide your orchid:

  1. Water the plant you would like to divide—it's easier to work with damp roots.
  2. Gently take the plant out of its container or basket. (If you can spot a pseudobulb, you may not even have to take it out of the soil.)
  3. Remove as much potting medium from roots as possible and rinse them.
  4. Remove any dead or damaged roots (they will be mushy or dried up and papery) with sharp snips.
  5. Observe the roots and look for obvious places where there are pseudobulbs that can be lifted off the main plant or the rhizomes. The pseudobulb of a Brassavola is thin, long, and looks like a droopy stem. It will have a paper-like sheathing at its base. Sometimes it will be easy to divide the pseudobulbs (try to pick a pseudobulb with multiple stems), along with their root systems, by hand, and other times you may need the help of sharp, clean snips or a knife.
  6. Use a porous clay pot with soilless potting mix for your division, or you can mount it.

Potting and Repotting Brassavola Orchids

Brassavola adapt well to mounted culture and will thrive mounted on fern plaques or in mounted baskets. Basket-grown Brassavola can quickly outgrow their original basket and form a specimen plant that completely covers the original container. Don't bother repotting or remounting larger Brassavola; instead, just take divisions multiply your plant stock. If you're potting them in containers, use a standard fast-draining orchid mix, such as those composed of expanded clay pellets, charcoal, and pine bark chips.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Orchids in general can be the victim of many pests and diseases. The most bothersome pests will be the spider mites. Other pests include scale, mealybugs, aphids, thrips, and fungus gnats.

Orchids are not usually very prone to diseases; however, they are sensitive to viruses, bacteria, and fungi, which is why it's imperative to use sterilized tools with your plant. Diseases that may affect your Brassavola orchid include all types of root rot caused by fungi, black rot being the most damaging infection that kills orchids. Fusarium wilt, anthracnose, rust fungus, and leaf spot diseases can also affect this orchid.

How to Get Brassavola Orchids to Bloom

Nothing smells as wonderful as a blooming Brassavola orchid on a sultry summer night. But what if your orchid isn't blooming? These orchids should be year-round bloomers with multiple flowers and flower spikes per flush. It's not uncommon to see a Brassavola so covered with flowers that it looks like a flower ball. Here are tips on how to get your Brassavola orchid to bloom:

  • Provide adequate light and warmth and you will be rewarded with several full blooms throughout the year.
  • Avoid watering the plant for a consecutive two-week period in the winter when the orchid is dormant. This dry spell should induce blooms.
  • Avoid overfeeding your orchid. Too much fertilizer may result in more leafy growth than blooms.
  • Encourage blooming by trimming a spent spike after its flower falls off. With sharp, clean scissors, snip a tiny bit off the top of a green spike, or trim to the base if it's brown and soft.

Common Problems With Brassavola Orchids

Though this orchid is not one of the fussier ones, it can have problems, much of the time with its leaves. Check the list below to see how to fix any challenges you have with your Brassavola orchid.

Deep Green Leaves

A healthy Brassavola has mottled leaves, with slight reddish marks on the leaves. Leaves that are deep green usually signify that a plant isn't getting enough light, so the plant should be moved to a brighter location.

Drooping or Wrinkled Leaves

Drooping or wrinkled leaves signal water stress from lack of hydration and you should water the plant as soon as possible.

Brown Spots on Leaves

Your orchid could have a fungal disease. Remove and dispose of the affected leaves. If the spots are hard and crusty, your orchid may be getting too much light which is burning the leaves.

Yellowing Leaves

Your orchid may be getting too much light if its leaves are tinged with yellow. Move your plant to a spot with less light.

Red Leaves

Red leaves mean your orchid is in too much light. Though the Brassavola orchid needs more light than most other orchids, even it can get too much light, which can burn the leaves. Just move your orchid away from the light.

Dropping Leaves

Sometimes if there is a change in the plant's environment, it can respond by losing leaves. So expect some dropped leaves if you move your plant from room to room or if you've installed an air conditioner or other type of HVAC unit near the plant.

FAQ
  • Are Brassavola orchids good for first-time orchid growers?

    Brassavola are generally a beginner's orchid in terms of their difficulty to grow. This is mainly because they are more drought-tolerant than many species and can handle more neglect than more sensitive species.

  • Why do Brassavola orchid flowers only come in white?

    Brassavola orchids are moth-pollinated in their native areas, so the flowers on the Brassavola nodosa are pale white to attract these nighttime pollinators (the fragrance also helps attract evening pollinators). You may find them in pale yellow or pale green colors, too, and the plant has been extensively hybridized to create flowers in a multitude of other colors. However, they are also self-pollinating so that indoor gardeners don't need to worry about bringing moths into the house.

  • Where should I place my Brassavola orchid in my home?

    Your Brassavola orchid will thrive in bright light along with some direct sunlight. To get this right lighting condition, try placing your plant near a south- or west-facing window a few feet away from the window, and not directly on the sill or it can get too much light.