Phaius tankervilliae

Nun's Orchid

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Phaius tankervilliae is a terrestrial orchid producing multiple flower spikes of white flowers accentuated by rosy pink cups. Like many terrestrial (ground living) orchids, it can tolerate partial shade but requires well-drained soils that remain moist—a challenging combination to maintain for most home gardeners. It's native to high,  cool, but not cold, environments from the Himalayas down through Indonesia. In the native range, a number of variations of flower color can be found. It's nicknamed the Nun orchid because of the hooded flowers.

The orchid family consists of a large number of genera, each with its own unique characteristics. A common characteristic, however, is the basic form of the flower, which consists of three petals surrounded by three sepals—often in dramatic and contrasting colors and in a variety of shapes and sizes. Although some orchids are native to temperate zones, most orchids tend to prefer a semitropical or tropical environment (USDA Zones 9-11) and have epiphytic roots—meaning they derive moisture and nutrients from the air and support from another plant; few orchids grow in soil. Orchids usually prefer a diurnal temperature fluctuation—meaning warmer days and cooler nights—though the absolute temperature range (cool, intermediate or warm) varies by genus and is consistent with their natural habitat. While requiring adequate sunlight for a stunning bloom display, most orchids will not tolerate sustained direct sun.

Many varieties have pseudobulbs, a portion of the stem between leaf nodes that stores water to help sustain the plant through dry periods. Other varieties are monopodial, meaning upward growth is from a single growing point.

There is an exception to almost every general statement one can make about orchids. The family continues to challenge taxonomists.

Plant Shape
Full Sun, Partial Shade
Bloom Time
January - February, March - April
Bloom Color
Pink, Red, White
Landscape Use
Bedding or Border, Specimen Plant, Understory
Wildlife Interest
Attracts Birds, Attracts Butterflies
Plant Type
Hardiness Zone
9 - 12