My phalaenopsis changed color! Every new orchid owner has been through the same thing. The orchid’s first bloom is one color, like blue or hot pink, and the second bloom is white. But is that to do with genetics? Is the orchid dying? Or is it something else?
Do orchid flowers change colors? They can, for several reasons. The most common reason is that you purchased an orchid with dyed flowers. Vivid blue and deep black orchids don’t exist in nature, so if you find these in a store, that’s because they’ve been dyed with food-grade dye. A cut is made in the orchid’s flower spike before the flowers bloom, and a small amount of dye is added to the cut. The orchid then sucks up the dye and it changes the color of the flowers. Any subsequent bloom will not be dyed, but will be the orchid’s original color, typically white. Orchid blooms also change color as they mature, becoming darker and darker, which happens because they dry out, which is why you might notice your white orchid petals turning pink (or another color).
The guide below explains which are natural orchid colors and which are dyed, why orchid blooms change color over time, how you dye orchid blooms and why you might want to..
Why Did My Orchid’s Flowers Change Color?
Let’s say you buy an orchid. It has big, bright pink flowers—lovely. When those flowers die and drop off, since you know that orchids rebloom if you give them enough time, you decide to keep it around. With time and patience, your orchid grows another flower spike, and you couldn’t be happier.
But when its flowers open, they’re plain white. They’re still pretty flowers, of course, but you were expecting them to be hot pink. What gives—why did my pink orchid turn white!?
If this happened to you, the reason is that you bought a dyed orchid. The grower dyed the flowers a different color to make it stand out and sell more.
What Is a Dyed Orchid?
A dyed orchid is an orchid that had its flowers dyed to be a different color. Most people who buy orchids throw them away when their flowers die, so the garden center or grower who sold you the orchid probably didn’t bother telling you that blue isn’t one of the many natural orchid colors available.
While you can dye an orchid any color you like, their real color is almost always white. That’s because the white flowers can be changed to any other color without an original color coming through. It’s the same as dying your hair: if you want to dye it a lighter color, you have to bleach it. The way that growers change the color of an orchid’s flowers doesn’t work unless the original flowers were white. That’s why I have so many white orchids in my collection. They all started out with different colors!
How Do Dyed Orchids Get Their Color?
It’s actually surprisingly easy to dye an orchid’s flowers. When the flower spike is first growing, you make a puncture in it and line it with food-grade dye.
That’s literally all you have to do.
You can actually tell that your orchid was dyed this way by looking at its flower spike. Somewhere along the spike there will be a hole with dark coloration around it. That’s where the flower spike was pumped full of colorful dye. You may even be able to touch the spot and get a little dye on your finger, depending on how long ago it was dyed.
This is done when the flower spike hasn’t yet bloomed. This gives the dye time to reach the developing flowers and infuse them with color. If you do this too late, the coloring will be partial or uneven, or very light, or absent entirely.
It is possible to paint orchid flowers, but this doesn’t give the same results. The dye is infused into the flower when the orchid pushes nutrients and water up the flower spike to the developing flowers. If you were to paint the flowers, or immerse them with dye, this would only affect the outside of the flower and wouldn’t look anywhere near as nice.
Why Do People Dye Orchids?
The point of dying an orchid is that you can make it any color you want, including colors that orchids don’t naturally come in. The best example is blue: there’s no such thing as vivid, ‘true blue’ orchid of the kind you can see in stores. Every single one of those orchids is dyed.
It’s obvious why growers want to dye orchids in colors they don’t come in. It’s because they sell better. There’s no end of orchids with white flowers for sale, so the first person to ever come up with the idea of dying an orchid blue probably made a huge profit from doing so! The same applies to other colors which are rare, or shades that are particularly hard to get. Black orchids are another that you can’t easily find, but it’s very easy to dye an orchid’s flowers black.
And if you plan on dying your own orchids, then you’ll already know that the reason you want to is that it sounds fun. You can make your orchid any color, and any shade of any color, that you like. You can also have an orchid with one flower spike of white flowers and one spike of any other color, which would be stunning to see.
Natural vs. Dyed Orchid Flower Colors
The most common dyed color is blue. You may see these advertised in a store or garden center as Blue Mystique orchids. The color they come in is a very deep, very vivid electric- to sea-blue. There’s a small amount of gradation along the petal, from a lighter blue to a darker blue, which makes them look amazing… But the blue color is only good for one bloom, just like any other dyed orchid.
Another common color for dyed orchids is hot pink. There are orchids that have a naturally pink color, but that’s a pink that borders on light purple rather than a vivid pink. But depending on where you live, and where you go to buy orchids, there may be any kind of color from deep oranges and yellows to deep dyed blacks. If there’s a food dye in a particular color, you can make your orchid’s flowers that color too!
Why Is My Orchid Losing Color Gradually?
It’s also possible that the color of your orchid’s flowers can change very slightly, very gradually, as the bloom ages. This is a natural result of the aging process as the flower loses water. Losing water makes the color of the flower more concentrated, which consequently makes it appear darker.
You can stave off this change by frequently watering your orchid when it’s in bloom, and by misting the flowers gently to prevent evaporation from inside the flower. However, there’s no way to stop the bloom from eventually wilting and drying up. This is why you might notice your white orchid flowers turning green gradually, as the color darkens as they age.
This will occur with both dyed and non-dyed orchids. The pigment, dye, or whatever is causing the color will effectively be in greater concentration as the flower loses water. What you won’t see is the dye fading into a lighter color over time; rather, what happens is that the first (dyed) bloom is of the dyed color, and subsequent blooms are of the orchid’s natural color, typically white.
But all orchid flower color is determined by genetics. Your orchid won’t turn from, say, white to purple without being dyed.
Can You Dye an Orchid at Home?
It is possible to dye your own orchids’ flowers. It’s also possible to damage your orchid’s flower spike and stop it from blooming. So, if your life depends on having your orchid bloom, then give this idea a miss… But if you’re in the mood for experimenting, follow the guide below!
How to Dye an Orchid at Home
So, how do you change the color of an orchid? Before you start dyeing, the first thing you should do is pick up a white orchid if you don’t have one already. The color of the dye is going to be much more vivid and impressive on white flowers than those of another color. You could dye a yellow orchid, but any color you use will be tinged with that yellow color. And as for dying a dark color like a deep purple, all you can do is make that color darker. A white flower is like a blank canvas, so is definitely preferable!
Where to Puncture a Flower Spike to Dye It
You can puncture your orchid’s flower spike anywhere along its length. The closer to the flowers you make the puncture, the quicker the dye will be taken up by the flowers. The downside of doing this is that the flower spike will be left with a large, visible ‘wound’ that will detract from how it looks. Your choice therefore comes down to what you think is more important.
One thing to note is that it’s best to make the puncture between two nodes (the lumps spaced at regular intervals along the flower spike). These nodes are useful because new flower spikes can grow from them. When your existing bloom wilts, cut the spike entirely midway between two nodes and a new spike will grow from the node below.
We would recommend making the puncture low down on the flower spike. Not only would it be less noticeable, but the spike is stronger towards its base. This means that the cut won’t compromise the strength of the spike. If the cut is higher up, the tissue there is softer, and the weight of the flowers may bend or break the stem.
What to Puncture a Flower Spike With to Dye It
If you’ve ever worked in a kitchen, you’ll have heard the expression that a sharp knife is a safe one. While that may sound counter-intuitive, it makes sense: a sharp knife makes quick, predictable cuts. A blunt one may sometimes cut well, and other times not; sometimes it may get caught and you have to force it through whatever you’re cutting. That’s dangerous.
The point of all that rambling is to say that you need a sharp tool like a box cutter or an X-ACTO knife. If you don’t already have one of these, you can find them for a cheap price at any hardware store. They’re sharp and can quickly, accurately make the cuts you need them for.
Another reason to consider either of these tools is that they can take fresh, sterile blades. An orchid wound can become infected with a virus, a fungus or bacteria, and when it does, that infection can grow and spread, either to the rest of the orchid or to other orchids. You want a sterile tool as it won’t introduce any bacteria to the cut it makes. Fresh single-use razorblades can, again, be found in any hardware store.
How to Cut a Flower Spike to Dye It
You need to bear two things in mind when you’re cutting into a flower spike to dye it. The first is that you don’t want to cut the spike off entirely, nor enough that it can no longer bear the weight of the flowers. As such, you have to be careful not to cut too deep. At the same time, you need to cut deep enough to access the part of the spike that moves water and nutrients up to the flowers. Otherwise, the dye won’t travel up the spike.
The best way to do this is bit by bit. Don’t take a razorblade and make great, hacking cuts. Take your knife and make gentle, shallow cuts one by one. The particular motion you use depends on what’s safe for you to do—which in turn depends on where you’re making the cut—but we recommend making one cut at an upwards angle followed by another, above it, at a downwards angle. You shouldn’t have to push and force these cuts.
The idea is for these two cuts to meet in the middle. You should then cut until you can visibly see through the outer layer and into the canal the dye can travel up inside. We recommend wearing thick gloves like gardening gloves to do this. This will mean that if you slip, you won’t cut yourself as badly (or at all).
How to Get Dye Into an Orchid Flower Spike
The idea is to essentially have the orchid drink up the dye. But you don’t want to have dye dripping and spilling everywhere as it’s soaked up.
The best way to do this is to dip something absorbent in dye and then wrap it around the cut you made, before securing it in place with something that won’t come loose. Cotton pads or cotton balls are a good choice.
You should then cover the ball entirely in tape, preferably heavy-duty duct tape or similar. This will a) stop any water in the dye from evaporating, and b) stop any dye from dripping out. You can cut the cotton ball and tape away when the dye has been absorbed, and the color of the flowers changed. Then all that will be noticeable will be the cut you made. Give that a wipe with wet tissue and much of the dye around it, which is what makes it stand out, will wipe away.
How to Dye an Orchid Two Different Colors
One fun thing you can do is dye your orchid two different colors. There are two ways of doing this:
- If your orchid has two flower spikes, dye one one color, and the other another. Or, don’t bother dying the second flower spike.
- Dye the flowers after some have bloomed, but some are still buds. The ones that have already bloomed will be partially dyed while the buds should appear fully dyed.
This is entirely optional, but it’s a fun way to experiment with the color of your orchids.