Friday, September 30, 2011

An introduction to Orchids as Houseplants

Frequently I hear ‘orchids are just too sensitive’ or ‘I could never…’, but honestly orchids are not always as difficult as people think. With the number of orchid species estimated at as much as 30,000 species (not a typo, see also Kew: Science and Horticulture: Orchidaceae) and native species found on every continent and climate except Antarctica, plus countless man-made hybrids, finding something right for your house is just about knowing what to look for in an orchid plant. Keeping it alive is just about being well informed (and occasional watering).

How is an orchid different? While there are many answers to this question, what really matters to the home grower is that many orchids, and certainly most of the common types grown as houseplants, are epiphytes. This is a situation where the plants use a tree branch (or occasionally rock crevice) as a condominium. They are not parasitic, just opportunistic. What this means to you as the home grower is that orchid roots are accustomed to an environment where while there might be frequent rain, there is also strong air movement. Many types can even be grown on a wood plaque with no media around the roots (see article here). Similarly, if your nicely potted plant has a root sticking out of the pot somewhere you shouldn’t be alarmed – in orchids this is not necessarily cause to repot. Some orchids just don’t really understand the concept of a pot and so throw their roots in every direction.

Good watering methods are key to root health. Watering of some houseplants is accomplished by leaving them to sit in water for hours at a time. This is not recommended with orchids (with a couple exceptions of some Phragmipedium species that live on river side rocks) as it may lead to root rot. The easiest thing to do is water the orchid by running plenty of water through the pot from the top. Once the media is well wetted, let it drain, then return it to the window.

For best results, orchids are potted in a fluffy or chunky mix that gives a nice balance of holding moisture but allowing air circulation. To maintain root health, repotting your orchids into fresh potting media every one to three years is recommended. Here is a repotting article.

Ok, so all that is great, but how to pick an orchid??

The most important piece of advice is to purchase a plant that is well established. You certainly can have success also with that $5 seedling in a two inch pot, but you will likely find it easier with more immediate gratification to buy a plant that is at least within 1-2 years of blooming for the first time. When buying a plant in person, especially at a place like the grocery store, challenge the plant by gently grabbing the leaves and lifting or moving the plant back and forth to see how well it is rooted into that pot. Good roots mean a healthy plant and more likely success.

Second is to look for a plant that matches your light conditions. For up to a few weeks at a time during blooming you can stick an orchid where it won’t get much light (say, the kitchen table) to enjoy it, but the rest of the year you will want to find a window for it to live in. Here’s a handy guide for commonly available orchid types, based on an unobstructed window, plant sitting right on the windowsill:

North facing window: Rather weak light. You might be able to grow a Paphiopedilum (Paph) there, or some Phalaenopsis (Phal). If it doesn’t bloom for you, supplement with fluorescent light.

East facing window: Great spot for Paphiopedilums and Phalaenopsis.

West facing window: Also great spot for Paphiopedilums and Phalaenopsis. Frequently this is also enough light for some Dendrobium (Den or Dend) plants or certain miniature Cattleya (Slc. or Pot.) hybrids, as well as several Oncidium types.

South facing window: This is your brightest light, excellent for Cattleya hybrids (Slc., Lc., C., Blc., Pot., Sl., Lc….), many Dendrobiums, and Oncidium intergeneric hybrids.

If you aren’t sure what category your plant-of-interest falls into, ask the grower for more details. They want you to succeed too!

I always recommend if you aren’t sure, go with a Phalaenopsis (Phal.) or Paphiopedilum (Paph.). These types are easy to grow, adaptable, and you can always make a very bright window less so by setting the plant back from the glass a little or using a sheer curtain to filter the light. Other culture details are fairly similar for the two types. You can find an article on growing phals here.

Monday, July 25, 2011

UPDATE: IOSPE and Dockrillia bowmanii

Hey folks, just a quick note to tell you I'm still alive and let you know there's a new photo of Dockrillia bowmanii on the Internet Orchid Species Photo Encyclopedia! Check it out here. You may remember this photo - it is one of mine. You can see more photos of the species on this older post.

I did at that time of that post introduce bowmanii and rigidum to each other, but they didn't really get along. There are no awesome seedlings to report. Not surprising. They're pretty different in terms of growth habit, and those weird Dendrobium alliance things can be picky about their dates. Pity.

Remember, if you have orchid culture questions, please feel free to ask. I enjoy chatting about plants, but also questions are usually the inspiration for some of my best articles, and I could really use a jump start! My blogging battery seems a bit dead here. Sorry about that, working on it...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

2011 MOS Show

The Maryland Orchid Society annual show was held this weekend at the state fairgrounds in Timonium, MD. I went for a look on Friday evening and brought back the following images for you. This year the show seemed smaller than in previous years, and at the risk of being critical, there were a surprising number of flowers in less than optimal shape. I rather think folks should only send their best. That said, there were still several gems to be seen at the show.

First, lets look at some exceptional Cattleya hybrids:

Rlc. Lebenkreis AM/AOSRlc. Lebenkreis, exhibited by Fishing Creek, was awarded an AM of 80 points at the show. It had wonderful color, velvety texture, and pleasing shape. The plant is bred out of Slc. Circle of Life and at first, that is what I thought I was looking at. A very lovely little thing.

Slc. Hazel Boyd 'Apricot Glow' HCC/AOSA very nicely grown Slc. (a.k.a. Cattlianthe) Hazel Boyd 'Apricot Glow' HCC/AOS. This cross is of special note for its extensive use in hybridizing. Hazel Boyd was registered in 1975, and since, 154 hybrids have been registered which used Hazel Boyd as a parent. I don't know offhand how many grandchildren it has, but I'm sure there are many.

Slc. Jewel Box 'Dark Waters' AM/AOS
Incidentally, Slc. Jewel Box was a parent of Slc. Hazel Boyd. This clone is 'Dark Waters' AM/AOS, and is very well grown and bloomed out.

Slc. Memoria Alvin Beggman 'Poem'For this group, we'll end with Slc. Memoria Alvin Beggman 'Poem', which I thought was devastatingly cute. In fact, if you know who might be offering these wholesale, please let me know. The plant was very compact, and the color was clear and bright.

From here, we'll move on to Cattleya species, which have become a fascination of mine of late.

C. intermedia var. orlata 'Crown Fox' HCC/AOSFirst up is Cattleya intermedia var. orlata 'Crown Fox' HCC/AOS. The plant was wonderfully bloomed with more buds emerging. A wonderful show of a nice variety with excellent color. I have some C. intermedia v. orlata seedlings in the shop.

C. lueddemanniana 'Lovelei'C. lueddemanniana 'Lovelei' is another nice, but likely overlooked species. It has the look of a generic "big purple cattleya," but still has some nice markings that set it apart. Look at the venation/striping in the throat - very striking.

Laelia jongheana 'Turnberry' AM/AOSLaelia jongheana 'Turnberry' AM/AOS is a species I see occasionally at shows, and possibly I'm even seeing the same plant or couple of plants making the rounds to the spring shows. It doesn't seem to be a commonly grown species, nor commonly for sale as far as I've noticed, but it does produce very nice, flat, pastel but color saturated flowers, making a very pleasing image.

Laelia bradeiLast in this group is a very tiny Laelia bradei, with several sunshine yellow flowers on a tiny little plant. The plant was perched up on the top edge of the display, almost out of my photographic reach. This is one of those rupicolous Laelias, typically found as a low-growing, fleshy plant on rocky areas.

Following the L. bradei, we'll look at a couple other miniature species found at the show.

Cadetia taylori is a species I've always thought was adorable. This is a tallish one at perhaps 4" tall, and grown into a neat porcupine on its little stick mount. Flowers are typically about half a cm with fragrance like anise, though I've always thought if I sniffed to hard I'd snort them right up my nose.

Leptotes tenuisLeptotes tenuis, approximately a 2-3 inch tall plant.

And no miniature selection would be complete without a cute little Bulbophyllum species. This one was labeled pleuro-thallianthum, which I've never heard of and isn't listed in the ISOPE database, but that isn't hard to do with Bulbophyllums. There are so many. Its flowers remind me of a species I once had called macroleum, but I think the growth morphology was slightly different.

In closing, I'll leave you with my favorite Paphiopedilum of the day:
Paph. haynaldianum x philippinenseThis Paph. haynaldianum x philippinense had beautiful markings with striking contrast and clear, deep color. I suspect it wasn't finished opening, though, and as it matures, the petals will probably twist and may elongate. The only thing that would make it more awesome would be a dark pouch. But even still, I'd really like to have that.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

2011 Paph Forum

Hi folks! This post is a couple weeks late, but hopefully will mark my getting back on track for more frequent plant-i-licious posts. It has been a winter of much knitting, working, and complaining bitterly about the lack of sunshine. I say, "Bring on Spring!"

This year's National Capitol OS Paph Forum was held at Behnkie's Nursery in Beltsville, MD, due to the typical meeting place at the National Arboretum being under construction. It was an interesting change, presenting some good and bad points. For one, it presented a brighter space. Better light makes looking at the plants and taking photos easier, though in some cases the light was so bright that it was difficult to get photos that weren't washed out, and the backgrounds were a bit busy in some cases. The Arboretum space is always rather dark; it can be difficult to get decent photos at all. However, the space we were in for lectures is of typical greenhouse construction. Between the wind whistling across the roof and opening and closing of vents there was a lot of background noise. But regardless, the event went off without a hitch.

For your entertainment, here are a few photos from the event.

Phrag. Mary Bess 'Holly Vhee'
Phrag. Mary Bess 'Holly Vhee'
Phrag. Richter x Pink Panther
Phrag. Richter x Pink Panther
Paph. richardianum
Paph. richardianum
Paph. micranthum 'Thoroughbred' AM/AOS
Paph. micranthum 'Thoroughbred' AM/AOS
Paph. haynaldianum 'Grace Botamy'
Paph. haynaldianum 'Grace Botamy'