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The Dactylorhiza is a genus that counts some dozens of species of epiphytic and terricolous orchids, originating in Europe, Asia and North America. The name describes the roots similar to the fingers of a hand; they produce a thick stem, tall from twenty to 60-70 cm, slightly fleshy, which brings to the base some lanceolate, elongated leaves, some of which wrap around it; shorter leaves grow alternately along the stem itself, which leads to the apex a panicle of flowers, more or less dense depending on the species. The flowers are slightly tubular, of small dimensions, with particular labellum with three lobes, sometimes subtended by green bracts.
The Dactylorhiza they produce flowers of various colors, from yellow to white, from lilac to purple; the inner part is covered with small dark dots. Bloom in late spring; flowers follow small capsules containing seeds. Some species of Dactylorhiza are protected in Italy, therefore it is forbidden to seize them in kind; buying them it is good to make sure that the nursery has spread them from seeds not coming from wild plants. They can easily be found in the wild, in clearings and in water meadows or ponds.
For the best cultivation of Dactylorhiza, put it in a partially shaded place, or enjoy a few hours of direct sunlight, in the morning and not in the hottest hours of the day, to prevent the leaves from showing burns.
The dactylorhiza do not fear the cold, so they can also find a place in the garden; if kept in a container, they are placed in a cold greenhouse. It is advisable to shelter them from the sun during the very hot days of the summer months and, in winter, not to put them in rooms with excessive heating.
The Dactylorhiza need regular watering, being careful to check that the soil remains slightly damp; generally they can withstand short periods of drought. Check that the substrate does not allow the formation of water stagnation that can quickly cause the onset of root rot, which must be counteracted quickly to avoid serious problems to the health of the plant.
These orchids grow without problems in any well-drained soil, rich in humus, loose and light; for a correct development of the plant it is necessary to provide a slow release granular fertilizer every 4-6 months. Epiphytic varieties need a substrate composed of sphagnum, shredded bark and perlite or charcoal, to allow the roots to have a good support, able to maintain the right degree of humidity.
The reproduction of these orchid plants can take place by seed, in autumn. It is also possible to practice root cuttings, or to divide the fleshy roots, to be buried in a substrate rich in humus, in the case of terrestrial species, or to be placed in a container with sphagnum and bark, for epiphytic plants.
Dactylorhiza: Pests and diseases
Generally, these orchids, being rather resistant, do not fear the attack of pests or diseases. They can therefore present radical rot in the case in which the cultivation soil is not sufficiently drained or is exceeded with the water supply.