How to Grow and Care for Rhynchostylis Foxtail Orchids

Have you ever heard of a Rhynchostylis orchid? These major bloomers are gaining popularity quickly. Here, orchid enthusiast Melissa Strauss will tell you how to care for a Rhyinchostylis orchid of your own.

A close-up of Foxtail orchid (Rhynchostylis orchid) flowers in shades of pink and white. Flowers are densely clustered on a long, pendulous stem, resembling a fox's tail. The image captures the delicate beauty and intricate details of these unique orchids.

Contents

Rhynchostylis (rink-oh-STY-lis) is a small genus of orchids with a big name. Along with that big name, they also have a major blooming habit that puts them on the map in terms of orchids that are increasing in popularity, especially with orchid collectors

These beautiful, tropical orchids have some particular care needs, which can make them seem high maintenance. However, for an experienced orchid cultivator, they can be an excellent challenge with a great reward. As with most orchids, they need very little care if you can replicate something close to their natural environment. 

Replicating this orchid’s environment is trickier than some, but not impossible. Ideally, these orchids thrive best in climates similar to Vanda orchids. They like warm weather, plenty of water, high humidity, and ample air circulation. Let’s take a look at this exciting genus of orchids.

Rhynchostylis Orchid Overview

A vibrant close-up of a cluster of Rhynchostylis orchids, featuring contrasting vibrant purple and white flowers against deep green leaves. Delicate petals unfurl, revealing the dance of purple and white hues, a mesmerizing spectacle that mesmerizes the senses.
Plant Type Monopodial Epiphyte
Family Orchidaceae
Genus Rhynchostylis
Species spp.
Native Area India, Malaya, the Philippines, and Indonesia
Exposure Bright Indirect Light
Height up to 2’
Watering Requirements Moderate
Pests and Diseases Aphids, Caterpillars, Botrytis, Root Rot
Maintenance Moderate
Soil Type Orchid Bark
Soil pH Neutral to Acidic

History

A close-up of a Rhynchostylis orchid in a shallow focus, with a blurred background of a garden. The orchid's long, cascading pink flowers resemble a fox's tail and are in full bloom. The garden in the background is lush and green, with a variety of plants and trees visible.
Discovered in the 1820s, Rhynchostylis is a relatively new orchid genus named for its foxtail appearance.

Rhynchostylis is a relatively new genus, by orchids standards, in terms of its history. The discovery of orchids dates back to 500 BC. This genus, however, was first recorded in the 1820s by orchid specialist and botanist Carl Blume. 

The name is derived from the Greek words for “snout” and ‘column,” but it is commonly called the foxtail orchid. The long plumes of small flowers the plant produces resemble a fluffy fox tail. 

Native Area

A purple and white Rhynchostylis orchid in full bloom, its delicate petals contrasting with the dark green leaves beside it. The flower's long, slender stem is attached to a tree trunk, which is visible in the background.
They thrive in the trees of deciduous forests in China, Thailand, and Southeast Asia.

Rhynchostylis orchids are native to China, Thailand, Southeast India, Malaysia, and Indonesia. They can be found in these places growing in the trees of deciduous and coastal forests.

They are also commonly found on teak plantations in Java. These tropical orchids need consistently warm and humid climates to thrive

Characteristics

A close-up of a bunch of purple and white Rhynchostylis orchids in full bloom. The orchids are in the foreground, with their delicate petals and intricate stamens exposed. The background is blurred, but more orchids can be seen in the distance.
They are distinct from Vanda orchids and showcase stunning floral displays and fragrant blooms.

While they resemble Vanda orchids, they also have some distinct differences. For one thing, Rhynchostylis orchids produce truly spectacular floral displays, the likes of which I have never seen on a Vanda. 

Rhynchostylis orchids are monopodial epiphytes. Epiphytes are plants that grow in trees but are not parasitic. Rather, they draw moisture and nutrients from the air and rainfall. These plants don’t grow in soil. Their roots are exposed to the air, so they need very good air circulation when they are kept as houseplants. 

Monopodial orchids grow horizontally on a central rhizome. Rather than spreading and producing new pseudobulbs like sympodial orchids, monopodial orchids continuously grow vertically and produce new flower spikes between their leaves. 

The flower spikes are fabulously flamboyant and beautiful. The individual flowers, while small, are highly fragrant. They are usually white and have spots that can be magenta, purple, or blue spots. Some varieties have pure white flowers, and at least one variety has solid red flowers.

One of these plants can produce several inflorescences at a time and reach up to 15” long, each covered from end to end with dozens, if not hundreds, of sweetly scented blooms. The leaves are long, wide, and leathery, with a light-colored stripe positioned longitudinally down each leaf. 

Uses

A close-up of Rhynchostylis orchids in full bloom, their delicate pink and white petals contrasting against a vibrant green backdrop. The orchids are nestled within a woven basket, their roots gently enveloped by the natural fibers.
Beyond their ornamental appeal, Rhynchostylis orchids in Nepal, Sri Lanka, and India were part of traditional medicine.

While most orchids are almost entirely used as ornamentals, with a few having potential for culinary purposes, Rynchostylis has traditionally been used medicinally in Nepal, Sri Lanka, and India. But as it is in decline in its native range and considered endangered there, this utilization is not as common now. 

That’s not to say that these are not ornamental orchids. Rhynchostylis orchids are beautiful and are gaining popularity among orchid collectors and cultivators for their spectacular floral arrays. Many botanical gardens try to propagate these orchids to ensure that they do not completely die out.

Planting

A close-up of a Rhynchostylis orchid displayed in a wooden box, bathed in the warm glow of the sun. Its tiny petals, which have a vivid yellow lip and tiny purple dots, shimmer with life. The blurred background hints at the lush garden that surrounds this breathtaking scene.
Rhynchostylis thrives outdoors in hanging baskets in tropical climates without needing a potting medium.

To grow these orchids outdoors year-round, you must live in a tropical climate. As a result, most gardeners grow them in hanging baskets, similar to their cousins, Vanda orchids. They are one of only a few types of orchids that can grow without any potting medium if provided with the right amount of moisture. 

How to Grow

Rhynchostylis orchids are in the moderate range in maintenance and difficulty of care. If you’ve had success with a Vanda, you should be able to handle this type of orchid as well. However, there are some differences in care that we will explore. 

Light

A cluster of hanging white and pink Rhynchostylis orchids in full bloom. The delicate petals cascade downward, with the green leaves visible in the background. A harmonious blur of purple orchids emerges, adding depth and dimension to this floral masterpiece.
They thrive in bright, indirect light, performing well in diffused greenhouses or sunny windows with sheer curtains.

Light is the prevailing area where Rhynchostylis orchids differ from Vanda orchids. While Vandas prefer abundant light and can tolerate quite a lot of direct sunlight, Rhynchostylis orchids prefer their light to be indirect. 

This doesn’t mean shade or even partial shade. These orchids prefer very bright indirect light, which can be tricky to achieve. This is one of those areas that bumps this orchid out of the low-maintenance category. A sunny window with a sheer curtain or privacy film is a great place for this orchid. 

If you have a greenhouse, that is the ideal spot for this type of orchid. Just make sure to use shade cloth in the neighborhood of 40%. Because of their need for high humidity, a greenhouse will provide the right environment more easily than what you can create inside the home. 

Soil

A close-up of a Rhychostylis orchid clinging to a tree trunk with its thick, aerial roots. Some of the roots are hanging down, while others are tightly wrapped around the trunk. The orchid is in full bloom, with a cluster of purple flowers cascading down from its center.
Rhynchostylis thrives without potting media, growing in small baskets with exposed roots for proper watering and humidity.

Rhychostylis orchids do not need potting media as long as they are watered properly and have sufficient humidity. You’ve probably seen orchids growing in small baskets with their exposed roots poking through the sides and bottom of the basket. This is the preferred way to contain these orchids.

Water

A close-up captures the beauty of Rhynchostylis orchid roots being delicately watered with a small bucket. Gentle streams of water, infused with a touch of ethereal sparkle, cascade over the roots, invigorating them with life-giving nourishment.
Water Rhynchostylis daily without potting mix; immerse roots for humidity.

As long as they are potted without any bark or other potting mix, you can water Rhynchostylis orchids daily. This is an orchid that wouldn’t mind living in the shower if there is a proper light source

I am guilty of watering my outdoor orchids with the hose, as they need more water than indoor orchids more often. If they are in a space with very good airflow, and you water in the morning, this won’t do any harm. If you forget and have to water late in the day, this could leave you with water pooling in the leaves, leading to crown rot. 

The best way to water your orchids is from below, immersing only the roots in water for a few minutes and then hanging up to dry. Because of the humidity these orchids need, this is a better practice than watering from above. Watering this way will help to prevent rot and fungus.

Temperature and Humidity

A cluster of Rhynchostylis orchids, with their long, cascading flower spikes, hangs gracefully from a branch in a greenhouse. The delicate pink flowers, adorned with white highlights, resemble a cascade of jewels.
Rhynchostylis orchids thrive in high humidity and warmth, making a greenhouse ideal.

Rhynchostylis orchids are true tropicals. They need consistently warm temperatures and very high humidity. While Phalaenopsis and Dendrobium can tolerate 40-50% humidity, this orchid prefers humidity as high as 80%. It can be very difficult to achieve this level in the home. This is another factor that makes these orchids more complicated to care for. 

You can use a humidifier to provide your orchid with extra humidity, but in this case, a pebble tray probably will not create enough humidity to keep this one from drying out. This is another reason a greenhouse is ideal for growing your Rhynchostylis orchid. 

Keep these orchids out of the cold for sure. They shouldn’t be left outdoors if the temperature drops below 50°F, eliminating most cold-season outdoor growing. If you leave these orchids outdoors in the summer, watch the weather, or your plant will suffer from excess heat or dry conditions. 

Fertilizing

Keikis, or baby orchids, placed in transparent cylinder containers filled with water and bark. The keikis are both healthy and green, with new roots growing out of their nodes. The water in the containers is clear, suggesting that the keikis have been recently watered and fertilized.
Fertilize orchids every two weeks during growth with specialized or all-purpose fertilizers.

Orchids love to be fertilized. They are heavy feeders, and because they are not potted in soil that holds moisture and nutrients, they need to be fertilized often for best results. During the growing and blooming seasons, fertilize your orchid once every two weeks.

Specialty orchid fertilizers are widely available at most orchid retailers. These fertilizers are specially formulated to meet your plant’s needs. However, if you add only one orchid to your plant collection and don’t need a specialized fertilizer, you can also use a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer. A 20-20-20 formula diluted to ¼ strength or a 10-10-10 fertilizer diluted to ½ strength should work just fine. 

Fertilize your orchids by diluting your fertilizer with water in a basin or sink and lowering only the plant roots into the solution. Allow the roots to soak in the solution for a few minutes to ensure absorption. Then, hang it back up and allow it to drain. 

Maintenance

A gloved hand removes the affected orchid roots that have been recently removed from a pot. The roots are brown and mushy, with some soil still clinging to them. It suggests that the orchid was suffering from root rot.
Selective pruning removes dead foliage, while cautious repotting benefits monopodial orchids for optimal care.

Orchids do not require regular pruning. You only need to remove foliage that is dead or diseased. In the case of a monopodial orchid, you can expect the plant to shed its lowermost set of leaves once per year. This typically happens just before the plant blooms, as the plant directs nutrients toward developing flowers. 

Regarding repotting your orchid, a monopodial orchid will not need to be repotted often. Because it grows vertically, your orchid will not need its space expanded often, and in the case of orchids potted solely in baskets, you risk damaging the roots any time you remove them from the container they are in.

If your orchid does outgrow its container and appears to need more space, be very gentle about freeing the roots from the basket. Water the plant well before you begin, as this will increase the malleability of the root tissue. 

Propagation

A close-up of a person's hand holding a healthy green root of a baby orchid. A person is removing some of the root's brown and dry parts with bare hands. It is branching out into smaller roots, which are all a healthy green color.
Orchids propagate through seeds, division, or keikis, with these monopodial orchids favoring keikis for propagation.

Orchids can be propagated from seeds, but the process is long and arduous and requires a very specific and sterile environment, so home gardeners don’t commonly perform it. You can propagate through division or with keikis, which are small offsets of the parent plant that it produces independently. 

Monopodial orchids are more complicated than sympodial orchids regarding propagation by division. A sympodial orchid has pseudobulbs, each growing its own leaves and inflorescence. These pseudobulbs can be separated and repotted. This is not so for monopodial orchids.

Monopodial orchids can be divided by cutting through the rhizome vertically and potting each portion independently. This is often unsuccessful; the top portion won’t always form roots. 

That leaves keikis as the prevailing way to propagate a monopodial orchid, and fortunately, these orchids produce more keikis than sympodial orchids do. Sometimes, an orchid will produce a keiki when it is nearing the end of its life, so a keiki can be a sign of a dying orchid. 

Light stress can also encourage an orchid to produce a keiki. You can also apply hormone powder to your orchid to encourage it to produce both keikis and flowers. Keikis occur at a node along a flower stem. When a keiki grows, cut it off once it begins to form its own roots and plant it in its own container.

Common Problems

Orchids are not without their issues. As appealing as these plants are to gardeners and houseplant collectors, they are equally attractive to insects. They are also susceptible to certain diseases because of their high humidity needs. 

Insects

A close-up of a vibrant purple orchid infested with mealybugs. These tiny, cottony-like pests cling to the orchid's delicate petals and stem, siphoning life-giving sap. A delicate white web, further ensnares the plant, highlighting the detrimental effects of these pests on orchids.
Thrips, aphids, spider mites, and scales threaten orchids, causing honeydew and potential mold.

Pests such as thrips, aphids, spider mites, and scales are all fans of orchid leaves. These insects all like to feed on orchid’s sweet sap, draining the plant of nutrients and leaving behind a sticky mess. This mess caused by their excrement is called honeydew. 

Honeydew can attract ants with its high sugar content. However, the more serious issue is that black sooty mold likes to grow in this environment. If you notice black mold growing on your orchid leaves, wipe it away and try to get to the bottom of the infestation.

Most of these pests can be successfully treated using neem oil or insecticidal soaps. Test your treatment on a leaf before spraying the whole plant with a diluted solution. If it does not solve the issue, you may need to repeat your treatment in a week or so. However you treat the plant, isolate it so the pests do not spread to other plants. 

Root Rot

A close-up of brown, mushy, and deformed orchid roots that have been removed from a pot. The roots are twisted and deformed, suggesting that they have been trying to grow through a pot that is too small for them.
Root rot, often from overwatering, poses a major threat—early detection is crucial for recovery.

This is the number one killer of cultivated orchids. It is easy to rot an orchid’s roots and difficult to recover from. The most common cause of root rot is overwatering and poor drainage. Ensuring your plant is potted correctly and paying attention to your watering schedule will go a long way toward keeping your plant’s roots healthy.

Identifying root rot without removing your orchid from its container and examining the roots can be difficult. When yellowing reaches the leaves, it is probably too late to save the plant. Yellowing in the base of the leaves and crown of the plant indicates that the root system is not transporting water and nutrients, and the plant needs those to survive.

If you suspect root rot, repotting the plant immediately is the best course of action. Examine the roots and trim away any mushy, black portions of root. You can treat the roots with a copper-based anti-fungal, but avoid using cinnamon, as it will dehydrate the fragile roots. Repot in fresh orchid mix, or leave the roots exposed.

Cartoon

A close-up of the ‘Cartoon’ variety orchid captures the intricate beauty of its full bloom. The delicate petals unfurl in a symmetrical arrangement, their vibrant purple hues contrasting with the purity of white accents. Purple spots adorn the lip's surface, intensifying toward the center and gradually fading toward the edges.
This fragrant variety blooms for 2-3 months in January, showcasing white flowers with deep maroon spots.
botanical-name botanical name Rhynchostylis gigantea ‘Cartoon’
sun-requirements sun requirements Bright indirect light
height height 12”
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 10-13

This spectacular variety of R. gigantea is highly fragrant and has a really fun appearance. Flowering in January, the blooms can last from two to three months.

The flower color is white with very well-defined but irregular, deep maroon splotches. The labellum is the same burgundy shade as the spots. It is a wonderful cultivar to add a splash of color to your collection. 

Peach

A close-up of a Rhynchostylis gigantea 'Peach' orchid. Delicate petals cascade in a symphony of peach hues, their velvety texture whispering tales of nature's artistry. The flower's heart glows with a deeper peach, surrounded by a radiant ring of its lighter counterpart.
With a distinctive hue, this variety features bold peach-colored flowers and a tri-lobed labellum.
botanical-name botanical name Rhynchostylis gigantea ‘Peach’
sun-requirements sun requirements Bright indirect light
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 10-13

This variety boasts a shade that is unique to the genus. As the name implies, the flowers are a bold peach color that borders on orange. The color gives these fragrant blooms a well-defined appearance, complementing a large, tri-lobed labellum

Alba

A close-up of an 'Alba' orchid reveals its intricate structure and ivory-white beauty. The flower's long column, three-lobed lip, and stamens are visible, and a few tiny pollen grains cling to the stigma. The soft focus and shallow depth of field create a dreamy, ethereal effect.
R. coelestis ‘Alba’ stands out with tall, upright inflorescences, defying the typical trailing form.
botanical-name botanical name Rhynchostylis coelestis ‘Alba’
sun-requirements sun requirements Bright indirect light
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 10-13

R. coelestis ‘Alba’ is a stunner. What sets this variety apart is its tall, upright inflorescences. While most Rhynchostylis orchids have trailing inflorescences, this one defies gravity. The flowers are small, fragrant, and pure white on green stems. 

Pink

A close-up of a cluster of Rhynchostylis retusa ‘Pink’ orchid flowers. The flowers are delicately arranged on a long, pendulous stem, with the largest and most open flowers at the bottom and the smaller, unopened buds at the top. Colors are vibrant and true to life, and the overall effect is one of beauty and elegance.
This remarkable variety produces large, trailing inflorescences with up to 100 flowers each.
botanical-name botanical name Rhynchostylis retusa ‘Pink’
sun-requirements sun requirements Bright indirect light
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 10-13

This amazing variety produces very large, trailing inflorescences that can hold up to 100 flowers each! A spring bloomer, ‘Pink’ produces flowers that have a white to pale pink foundation, with the appearance of being misted with orchid pink. The labellum of the flower is the same pink shade as the markings on the petals, 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are orchids toxic to pets?

No. All parts of an orchid are edible and will not harm your pets. If an animal consumes a large amount of the plant, it could cause some stomach upset, but it will not be fatal or harmful to the internal organs.

Why does my orchid have yellow leaves?

Yellowing leaves can be a sign of root rot, sunscald, or just a sign that those leaves are coming to the end of their life. The latter is especially true of the oldest leaves on the plant. If you don’t see symptoms of younger leaves yellowing, it could simply be aged leaves preparing to drop as part of the plant’s normal lifecycle.

Can an orchid be propagated in water?

No, orchids cannot be grown from stem or leaf cuttings. You need some root material to propagate an orchid, and most orchids prefer high humidity to constant contact with water; they are often prone to root rot when in constantly-wet conditions.

Final Thoughts

Rhynchostylis orchids can be particular about their environment. They need a lot of indirect sunlight and very high humidity to perform and bloom at their best. When these orchids bloom, though, they are absolutely worth the time and effort they require. These highly fragrant, extra floriferous orchids should be in every collection. 

SHARE THIS POST
Close-up of a flowering roselle plant in a garden against a blurred green background. The plant produces a large, trumpet-shaped flower with delicate crimson petals and a prominent central stamen. The petals are slightly ruffled. Next to the flower on the stem there is a calyce, which is the fleshy, cup-like structure that forms after the flower has bloomed and encases the seedpod.

Flowers

How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Roselle

Master Naturalist Sarah Jay knows roselle is everyone’s favorite source of hibiscus tea. Beyond that, it’s an amazing plant with unique foliage and flowers. She’s gathered everything you need to know to grow roselle at home here!

Bat flower blooms display intricate details with their deep purple petals and elongated dark stems. The green leaves appear vibrant and healthy, complementing the overall appearance.

Flowers

How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Bat Flower

Do you have a thing for rare and exciting plants? The bat flower is an incredible plant with some of the most interesting flowers around. Here, gardening expert Melissa Strauss explains how to care for this unique and exciting tropical beauty.

dracula orchid

Flowers

How to Plant, Grow and Care for Dracula Orchids

Looking for a unique orchid to add to your plant collection? The dracula orchid is a unique orchid variety that will brighten up your plant collection. In this article, gardening expert Melissa Strauss shares all you need to know about Dracula Orcids, including their maintenance and care needs!

Vibrant Orchids Blooming Outdoors

Flowers

11 Tips For Post Blooming Orchid Care

Not sure how to care for your orchid after it blooms? These sensitive flowers are notoriously picky about their maintenance routine, especially after they've bloomed. In this article, gardening expert Melissa Strauss shares her top tips for post-blooming orchid care.

orchids indoors

Flowers

15 Tips For Growing Beautiful Orchid Flowers Indoors

Orchids can be picky about their growing conditions, which makes them great indoor flowers. There are also a few things you can do to maximize their blooms. In this article, gardening expert Melissa Strauss shares her top tips for growing beautiful orchids indoors!