After mastering Cattleya, Paphiopedilum, and Phalaenopsis, the budding orchid collector will wish to conquer new worlds. The next step is to begin exploring the botanicals, less well known orchids that have not achieved broad commercial success but that nevertheless reward us with their beauty or their uniqueness. They are called botanicals because, being of little importance to commercial growers and florists, they were once considered interesting solely to botanists. Some of these botanicals are as strikingly handsome as members of the more familiar genera, but many are grown for their curious form and color or, in some cases, for their grotesqueness. Many, but by no means all, are small enough to fill in the spaces between larger plants in a collection.
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Sixty or so species of small to medium monopodial orchids related to Angraecum range from Africa to Madagascar and the islands of the Indian Ocean. Their short stems bear two ranks of leathery leaves. Erect to arching or drooping inflorescences carry many white or creamy flowers with long spurs. The flowers of many are fragrant at night. Grow these orchids in small pots filled with bark, or on rafts or logs. They like warm temperatures and medium to low light.
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Like Aёrangis a native to Africa and the islands of the Indian Ocean, most in this genus differ in being large plants. Their flowers are star shaped, with spreading segments and a long spur attached to the lip. The flower color is white, cream, or greenish. Grow these in pots or baskets filled with a coarse mix; water and feed them freely throughout the year, keeping temperatures warm and giving them medium to high light. The plants will develop many aerial roots. Mist frequently, but early enough in the day to keep water from standing in the leaf bases at night.
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TULIP ORCHID. The tulip orchids may be epiphytic, but they are more commonly grown as terrestrials, in a mix suitable for Cymbidium. The pseudo bulbs are topped by three large (2 1/2-foot by 1-foot), thin, heavily ribbed leaves. The flowers spring from the base of the pseudo bulbs, each on its own short, stout stem. The sepals are larger than the petals and cupped around them, lending the flower its tulip shape. Feed and water these cool growers heavily during the summer growth period; provide medium to low light, shading them against sunburn. Then keep them on the dry side, with maximum brightness, until signs of new growth appear. Summer bloom. Crossed with Lycaste, tulip orchids form hybrids called x Angulocaste, whose flowers are less cupped, more open and triangular than the species.
LEOPARD ORCHID. These warm growers flourish in strong light. Tall (to 3 feet), cane like pseudo bulbs carry up to ten leaves 6 to 20 inches long and produce branching inflorescences with many 2-inch flowers, whose narrow yellow segments are heavily spotted with dark brown. Flowering is in winter. The plants are sometimes sold as A. gigantea or A. nilotica; those so named may have broader, more brightly colored flowers than the species.
Resembling Anguloa and Lycaste in form and flower, these orchids have firm, conical pseudo bulbs, each topped by a single large, broad, heavily veined, leathery leaf. Short stems from the base of the pseudo bulbs carry from one to five firm, waxy flowers that resemble those of cymbidiums. These plants grow best in a coarse bark mixture and bloom best when pot-bound. Give them intermediate to warm temperatures and bright light. Water and feed them freely until growth is completed; then give them cooler, drier conditions until new growth appears.
This enormous genus contains over 1,000 species of highly diverse size, appearance, and nativity. Examples are found on every continent, but most are East Asian or Indonesian. Their general preference is for intermediate to warm temperatures and bright, diffused light.
Some have tightly clustered pseudo bulbs, others long, slender rhizomes with widely scattered growths. Some have large and fragrant flowers, others tiny ones that smell like dead animals. Most have a lip that is hinged and movable. The flowers may be large and solitary, or tiny and closely set on fleshy spikes. Some have narrow flowers that radiate outward from the top of the stalk like the ray flowers on a daisy; this last group is sometimes split from its parent genus and named Cirrhopetalum.
These terrestrial plants are of two different origins and require correspondingly different care. Most tropical kinds are completely deciduous, blooming from the bare pseudo bulbs; those native to Japan, on the other hand, are evergreen and have no visible pseudo bulbs. Both kinds have erect or arching inflorescences bearing many flowers.
The tropical species have been in cultivation for many years and were popular house plants in Victorian England, but their size and leaflessness while in bloom limit their usefulness in today's smaller houses. The Japanese calanthes have been favorites in Japan for centuries, but they are so far only promising novelties elsewhere. They may be grown out-of-doors, with care, where temperatures rarely dip below freezing.
The tropical, deciduous species need bright light and warmth while their foliage and pseudo bulbs are developing. Once the leaves yellow and drop, dry out the plants thoroughly and repot them, discarding any withered pseudo bulbs and dead roots. Set the bases of the remaining bulbs in a rich, highly organic mix and raise the heat and humidity until winter flowering ensues. Feed and water heavily to produce large new growth.
In nature the Japanese species are woodland plants that grow in rich soil with leaf mold; in cultivation they are grown in lava rock and fertilized frequently. They are tolerant of cool to warm temperatures.
The species of Catasetum are remarkable in two ways: First, though most orchids contain both male and female parts (and are hence botanically "perfect"), catasetums may produce solely male or solely female flowers-and the sex of the flowers can change with plant stress. Second, male flowers shoot their pollen onto visiting insects by a trigger like device. A favorite jest of the seasoned orchid fancier is to persuade a novice to smell the flower; when nose touches trigger, it receives the pollen forcibly (but not painfully).
Catasetums are native to the American tropics and are generally plants with large, fleshy pseudo bulbs and large, pleated, deciduous leaves. They flourish in intermediate to warm temperatures, but need protection from strong sunlight.
Water and feed them liberally while they are actively growing; withhold water when leaves begin to fall, providing only enough to keep the pseudo bulbs from shriveling. Resume watering when new growth appears in the spring. Bloom period is fall and winter.
Members of Clowesia resemble Catasetum, except that the flowers are (like those of most orchids) "perfect": that is, both male and female.
Species of Coelogyne are found from the high, cool Himalayas to the steamy jungles of Borneo and eastward. Flower colors range from pure white through orange and brown to green and nearly black. All plants are epiphytic and possess pseudo bulbs with leaves that emerge from the top. Some have rambling rhizomes with widely spaced pseudo bulbs; these are best grown on long rafts. The inflorescences may be erect or drooping, one or many flowered. In general, they thrive in cool to intermediate temperatures and bright light; exceptions are noted.
SWAN ORCHIDS. The 60 or so species of swan orchids are native to tropical America. They are related to Catasetum and, like that genus, bear either male or female flowers. The common name springs from the long, arching column of the male flower, which resembles a swan's neck. The male flower is able to throw pollen onto pollenizing bees; the female flower has a shorter column with three hooks that strip the pollen from the bees. The flowers are fragrant. These plants like ample water and feeding while making new growth, followed by a brief rest period with reduced watering. Grow them in intermediate to warm temperatures, but protect them from strong sunlight.
Large size and muted flower color have kept these plants out of mainstream orchid culture, but one species is noteworthy as the largest orchid native to the United States.
These small orchids are grown for their graceful carriage and delightful perfume. Plants are small, compact, and attractive, their many pseudo bulbs topped by one or two leaves. Long arching and trailing spikes are closely set with tiny flowers in a chain or necklace effect. A small pot can contain many flowering growths, creating a fountain of bloom. They do well in intermediate temperatures and bright light.
Of the 100-plus species of the terrestrial African orchid genus Disa, only D. uniflora (D. grandiflora) is seen, and that but seldom. Native to stream banks near Cape Town, it is sometimes known as the "pride of Table Mountain." Plants are 6 inches to 2 feet tall and bear one to three (rarely more) 4-inch flowers. These are triangular in form; the dorsal sepal is hooded and orange red, strongly veined with bright red. The lateral sepals are bright red, the petals and lip inconspicuous.
Difficult to grow, this orchid is exacting as to water, soil, and temperature. It needs cool temperatures and a freely draining, neutral to acid growing medium based on sand and peat. The water it receives must be free of mineral salts and neutral to acid in reaction. Some hobbyists have had success growing Disa in pure coarse sand using hydroponic techniques.
As befits their name, these orchids often appear threatening-or at the very least bizarre. The conspicuous part of the flower is the triangle formed by the three sepals. The points trail out into long tails, the colors tend to be muted and mottled, and the texture may be warty or shaggy, with hairs. The ridiculous petals are tiny, looking somewhat like eyes peering out from the depth of the flower, and the inflated lip resembles the nose of a sinister clown.
These were once included in the genus Masdevallia and grow under its general conditions. However, despite their better tolerance of heat, the draculas are fussier, needing cool temperatures, shade, high humidity coupled with good air movement, and constant moisture without sogginess. They have no pseudo bulbs; the stalked leaves arise directly from the rhizome. Draculas should be grown in a loose, open medium in slatted wood or wire baskets, so that the flowers can emerge from the sides or bottom. They are definitely not orchids for beginners to grow.
Drooping inflorescences bearing fantastically shaped flowers characterize these orchids from the American tropics. The heavily ribbed pseudo bulbs produce thin-textured, heavily veined leaves. Flowers are small, complex in structure, fragrant, and neatly and rather formally arranged on the hanging stems.
Grow them in intermediate to warm temperatures and light shade, in baskets or hanging pots filled with a loose, fast-draining medium. They thrive in high humidity and like frequent watering. When plants are in bud, rest them by withholding water for a brief period. Buyer beware: the names of the species are both confused and confusing.
The plants are clumps of unbranched erect or drooping stems sheathed by the broad bases of the short leaves. The general effect is that of a braided watch chain. The flowers are borne in clusters on short spikes and resemble those of oncidiums. They prefer bright light, a humid atmosphere, and intermediate temperatures. Grow these orchids in bark and water them freely, but withhold some water in winter. They flower over an extended period-sometimes all year.
Grown for its foliage rather than its flowers, this is very likely the easiest orchid to grow. It thrives under the same conditions as an African violet-a rich, loose house plant potting mix, moderate light level, cool to warm temperatures, ample water with good drainage, and occasional light feeding. The stems branch and creep, rising at the ends to form rosettes of velvety, bronzy brown, 3-inch, broadly oval leaves veined with red. A slender flower spike 6 inches tall holds many tiny white flowers with yellow lips.
Easy to propagate, this is a good plant to share with friends: small pieces broken off root readily in moist potting mix. The plant is sometimes sold as L. discolor dawsoniana or L. dawsoniana.
Lycaste plants are deciduous or semi evergreen, dropping leaves in dry winters. Their leaves are large, thin in texture, and pleated. The flowers appear from the base of the pseudo bulbs before the leaves expand, or just as they begin to expand. Each short stem carries a single flower, but the pseudo bulbs may produce many of these flowering stems. The flowers consist of three large sepals and two smaller inner petals (usually of a contrasting color) that form a hood above or around the lip. Although the flowers are long lasting on the plant, they are easily bruised once cut.
Grow lycastes in light shade and cool to intermediate temperatures, using a cymbidium mix or a bark-based mix. The plants need little water during winter, but heavy watering should begin when the flowers and leaves appear and continue until new growth is completed. In addition to the species listed below, many other species and a number of hybrids and selections are occasionally available.
Native to misty mountain forests, these small orchids need cool, humid conditions along with good air movement. Because the plants take up little room, enthusiasts in favored areas can amass large collections (one grower offers 40 species). They grow out-of-doors in light shade with little protection where frosts are rare and summer temperatures moderate, and they are easy to manage where low night temperatures can be guaranteed.
These plants have no pseudo bulbs; stems bearing a single leaf arise in clumps from the creeping rhizome. The leaves are narrow, leathery, and dark green. Flowers arise singly or in few flowered clusters from the joint between leaf and stem.
The basic shape of the flower is a short tube broadening out into a triangle composed of the three sepals. The sepals usually end in long tails, and the flowers are large for the size of the plant. Petals and lip are tiny, scarcely visible inside the flower tube.
The 350 or so species entice collectors with their bright colors and odd shapes. A fad among collectors at the end of the 19th century, they faded from view for decades but have lately made a Masdevallia Proud strong comeback. A few (noted below) will tolerate intermediate to warm temperatures.
Grow masdevallia orchids in small pots filled with a medium based on fine bark. Many growers have also had excellent results with sphagnum moss. They should never become dry, but soggy conditions at the root can kill them. Their small size and love of relatively low light makes them good subjects for growing under lights.
The plants are variable in habit, but those commonly grown greatly resemble Lycaste, with pseudo bulbs bearing a single leaf and flowers arising singly from the bases of the pseudo bulbs. The flowers also resemble those of Lycaste: the large sepals produce a three-cornered flower with smaller petals and lip in the center. Most thrive in warm or intermediate temperatures, and require considerable shade.
NUN'S ORCHID. Of the 50 or so species in this genus, only this one is likely to be seen. A large terrestrial orchid, it is native over a wide range from China to Australia, and plants from the northern regions can withstand temperatures down to 40°F (5°C), possibly lower. In fact, although in general the plants like warm to intermediate temperatures, they need a period of winter chilling to bloom satisfactorily. During that time they need little water. Pseudo bulbs to 3 inches tall support two to four large (1- to 3-foot), heavily pleated evergreen leaves. Flower spikes to 4 feet tall arise from the base of the pseudo bulbs and carry up to 20 fragrant, 4- to 5-inch brownish red flowers with a white lip. Bloom is in spring. Grow this orchid in a rich, loose, soil-based mix with a high organic content. In the deep South and Southern California, plants can grow outdoors. Elsewhere they can spend the summer outside in light shade.
These deciduous dwarf orchids have showy flowers and are quite hardy, being native to high mountains in India and China. They can be grown out-of-doors in light shade where frosts are rare and summer temperatures moderate, provided that they have perfect drainage, a rich peaty soil, and a minimal amount of protection in winter (meaning shelter from excessive rain and deep freezing). The small round or top-shaped pseudo bulbs produce one or two thin, pleated leaves. Flowers are large for the size of the plant and resemble small cattleyas. In most species they appear just as the leaves begin to show. Repot plants each year before growth begins, using a rich, highly organic, well-drained soil mix. Set several close together in a shallow pot for a big show, burying only the bottom quarter of the bulb. Water to begin growth; flowers will appear in the spring, followed by foliage. Continue to water and feed well until foliage yellows; then gradually dry off.
This is another huge genus containing over 1,000 species. Most are small (some tiny indeed) with small, unshowy flowers that are nevertheless interesting for the oddity of their form-especially as seen under a magnifying glass. Many have unusual foliage. The pleurothallis are an acquired taste, but many people collect them avidly.
These plants lack pseudo bulbs; instead, the leaves emerge in clumps directly from the rhizome. In many species the flowering stem appears to emerge from the middle of the leaf. What produces this impression is that the leaf stalk and midrib surround the flower stalk for most of its length. Give these orchids cool to intermediate temperatures and partial shade.
These large, showy terrestrial orchids somewhat resemble reeds or gingers (Hedychium) in growth habit, forming clumps of leafy stems. The flowers, which are formed like cattleyas, are borne at the top of those stems. The showy flowers are generally short-lived, but new ones appear over a long season.
Pot them in a mix appropriate for cymbidiums and water lavishly until the stems are fully grown; then reduce watering for a month. They prefer intermediate to warm temperatures and tolerate sun except when in bloom (during spring, summer, and early fall). These make impressive tub plants.
The stanhopea orchids are among the more bizarrely spectacular of orchids. The flowers are large, powerfully fragrant, fleshy, heavy, and short-lived (though produced in abundance). Give them cool to warm temperatures and partial shade. Water and feed them freely until the pseudo bulbs have ripened; then reduce watering and increase the light supply.
Their form has been compared to giant moths, a sheep's skull, a flying bird with raised wings-even an eagle flying off with a squid! The complicated lip contains a scent-producing body to lure in the bee, a chute and bucket into which the bee falls, and an escape hatch that ensures that the bee will pick up some pollen on its way out.
Plant stanhopeas in a slatted wood or wire basket lined with sphagnum and filled with a coarse bark mix, with added leaf mold and dried cow manure. The pseudo bulbs produce one (rarely two) large, broad, pleated leaves. The inflorescence grows downward, burrowing through its planting mix and emerging from the bottom of the basket.
Of the many species only this, the vanilla of commerce, is likely to be seen-and then only in a sizable greenhouse (though it will grow and bloom indoors). A climbing vine that theoretically can grow to any length, it needs room, warm surroundings, bright light, and plenty of water throughout the year. Start the plant in a pot beneath a vertical piece of tree fern or a pole wrapped in sphagnum. As the plant elongates, support it with ties to the greenhouse framework. Don't fret if the stem dies off at ground level; aerial roots will keep the vine growing. The stems are thin, the 6-inch leaves thick and fleshy, and the short-lived, 5-inch flowers yellowish green. Hand pollination will induce the plant to produce vanilla beans.
Two species and many hybrids and named selections of Zygopetalum are becoming popular, especially in coastal California and similar climates. There they can be grown like cymbidiums, enjoying the same planting mix, light conditions, and watering and feeding regime. They like cool to intermediate temperatures, but are slightly more sensitive to cold than are cymbidiums.
The tightly clustered pseudo bulbs are sheathed by the bases of the evergreen, strap shaped leaves growing in opposite ranks like a fan. Flower spikes rise from the base of the newest pseudo bulb. The large, very fragrant flowers are usually a tiger-striped blend of green and maroon; the lips are white, finely netted with bluish violet to solid dark purple. Both of the species listed here are fall to winter blooming.
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