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Why Do Orchid Leaves Get Sticky? Top 3 Reasons & Solutions

Orchids can make any garden they are in look stunning.

They are one of the most popular and desirable flowers in the world. Nowadays you can catch their beauty in several gardens.

However, this was not the case a few years ago. It was expensive, time-consuming, and effort-taking to grow orchids.

While growing orchids is usually pretty smooth, sometimes you can run into problems with the plant that can leave you stumped. One such issue is when you see a gooey, sticky substance on the leaves, and this can leave you wondering, why do orchid leaves get sticky?

There are several reasons why the sticky substance appears on the leaves of orchids.

Some reasons warrant your immediate attention, while others are a part of the natural process.

You need to learn about the various issues behind the stickiness to take action accordingly. Keep reading as we answer why do orchid leaves get sticky.

Pink orchid plant—why do orchid leaves get sticky?
Why do orchid leaves get sticky? – Image via Dim Hou.

Why Do Orchid Leaves Get Sticky? Top 3 Reasons & What to Do About Them?

There are a few different reasons for the occurrence of the sticky substance on the leaves.

In some cases, the sticky substance is a natural secretion by the plants for pollination, while in others, the sticky substance is a symptom of pest infestation.

You have to look at the signs on the plant carefully to determine the actual cause behind the production of the sticky substance so you can take corrective action.

Stay with us as we look in detail at the answers to your question.

Let’s begin!

1. Natural Honeydew on Orchid Leaves

In several cases, the sticky substance produced by the orchids is a natural secretion.

It is known by several names: honeydew, orchid sap, happy sap, or orchid nectar. The happy sap is specially produced in high quantities when the plant is blooming and in the stage of budding flowers.

This is the phase where the orchids need nutrition; this nectar is filled with food to help the plant grow properly.

Although this natural secretion reflects the excessive presence of nutritive nectar, the happy sap is a sign of healthy growth; usually, there is nothing to worry about.

However, happy sap nectar could be due to pests and insects or may attract an infestation later. You have to check the leaves and the rest of the plant as soon as you see the sticky substance to ensure it is not due to the insects. Check the underside of the leaves as the infestation is usually present there. If you see no insects or pests, the sticky substance is honeydew produced by the orchids.

Now the question arises, do you need to clean the sap from the leaves? Yes, it would be best if you cleaned the sticky sap from the leaves as soon as possible, or else it can give rise to many different issues.

  • If the sticky substance stays on the leaves for a long time, it will block the tiny holes called stomata.
  • While most of the stomata are situated below the leaves, the top surface is still critical in helping in the gas exchange and absorption of light. There are many pores on the top of the leaf as well.
  • When the sticky substance blocks the holes on leaves, the plant won’t be able to receive the required conditions like light and air to carry out the process of photosynthesis.
  • This can lead to the death of the plant as there will be no food for the plant to survive.
  • The plant cells will gradually start dying as the sap sits on the leaves, and this dead organic material will attract bacteria, further destroying any orchid plantation that remains behind.

Another issue with leaving the nectar on the leaves is its sugary nature.

The sap has sucrose, and the sweetness of honeydew attracts a wide variety of insects and pests like aphids, mealy bugs, ants, and more.

These insects will feed on the sap and the plant juices, leaving nothing behind. All you will be left with is a destroyed orchid plant.

There is another barrier to leaving the sap on the leaves.

The honeydew nectar does not go away or evaporate on its own. You cannot leave it on the plant and expect to see it gone within a few days. The nectar will keep sticking to the leaves; as the plant grows weaker, it will be attacked by fungus.

Fungus creates sooty mold on the orchid, and soon, the plant will die.

How to Wipe off the Sticky Sap?

You need to wipe off the sticky sap soon to prevent multiple issues.

Give the leaves some support from the underside and carefully wipe off the top surface, so you don’t end up cracking the leaf.

You can try wiping it off with warm water or a soap solution. Just remember to wash off the leaves with clean water afterward.

Here’s a YouTube video that’ll help:

Why do orchid leaves get sticky? Top 7 Ways to Clean Orchid Leaves That Actually Work – YouTube

2. Sticky Substance Left by Pests and Insects

The sticky substance produced by the orchids attracts insects as pollinators but do you know that insects also leave behind a sticky substance?

When the insects chew on the leaves, they produce their own gooey, sticky material that stays on their trail.

You must scrutinize your orchid plant to know what is causing the stickiness. If the stickiness is due to the insects, you need to take immediate action.

Be thorough in checking the plant food insects as these tiny creatures are very good at hiding in different creases of the plant.

The sticky sap will primarily be present on the leaves if insects secrete it and will be in large quantities.

If you see the sap dripping from the plant and resent on the underside of the leaves, it is probably caused by the insects.

Another way to ensure an insect infestation is by checking to see if there are any ants around the plant.

Ants are usually attracted to the sap produced by insects like mealy bugs.

So, insect infestation is possible if a large group of ants wanders on your orchid.

How to Deal with Insect Infestation?

Now that you’re sure some insects cause stickiness, you need to figure out how to deal with it.

Mealybugs are one of the common insects that may inhabit your orchids.

  • They have an appearance of fluffy cotton pieces.
  • If you spot mealy bugs on your plant, take a solution of 70% isopropyl and apply it to the mealy bugs for several days until you are sure the infestation has gone away.

Aphids are another group of insects that love to feed on the orchids.

  • You can spot them under the plant leaves and around the flowers.
  • If the aphid infestation is still in its prime, you can take a wet cotton swab and remove the aphids with it.
  • However, you must remove the insects by spraying insecticides for a massive aphid infestation.

Scale can also attack your lovely orchids.

  • They appear as black, brown, or dark-colored spots on the leaves.
  • Try to wipe the spots with a towel, and the leaves will chip away—this shows that the spots were scales.
  • You can eliminate the scales by spraying soap solution or neem oil on the plant.

Once the insect infestation has been dealt with, you can wash the plant off with water.

3. A Sticky Substance Is Produced to Balance the Water

Another reason for the stickiness of the plant is overwatering.

If your plant has taken in too much water, it will produce the sugary sap to balance out the pressure inside the leaves.

As the sugary sap comes out, it will combine with the water and form a crystallized structure.

This crystallized sugar exists on the underside of the leaves in most cases. If you see this sap, you need to consider your watering schedule.

Water drops on leaf tip—why do orchid leaves get sticky?
Why do orchid leaves get sticky? Sap released due to overwatering can crystallize on the leaves, leading to the stickiness—Image via Aaron Burden.

The orchid plant needs to have moist soil but not one that is dripping with water. Make sure you keep a strong hold on the watering level.

It would be best if you also wiped the sticking substance off the leaves. Carefully wipe the substance gently with a wet cloth.


Conclusion

I hope this answers your question—why do orchid leaves get sticky?

There are a few different reasons for the stickiness of the orchid plants.

  • It can be due to a natural process or an indication of a harmful infestation.
  • But whatever the reason, you should know that the sticky substance is not suitable to be kept on the leaves for a long time, or even the healthy secretion of the sap can destroy the orchids.
  • There are insecticides and natural home remedies like neem oil for dealing with insects.
  • You can also use an alcoholic solution to kill off the insects.
  • The sticky substance may also be due to too much water inside the leaves.

The production could also be completely natural due to the growing phase. However, the sap needs to be removed and wiped off carefully in all situations after dealing with the cause systematically.

Be vigilant and keep learning about your plants to grow them well!

Regards,
Happy planting!