Cattleya araguaiensis

The Pinocchio Orchid

One of the most delightful children’s storybook characters is the puppet, Pinocchio whose nose grew longer every time he told a lie. Lying, of course, is not a trait limited to storybook characters – or even people. Some orchids do quite well in this respect.

The first time I saw Cattleya araguaiensis, I said to a friend, “This can not possibly be a cattleya. Look at those scrawny sepals and petals. They are equal in size, shape and color. Look at that long, long, long labellum wrapped up like a cigar. It looks like Pinocchio’s nose and it must have lied about being a cattleya.”

C. araguaiensis is an unusual member of the cattleya family in that the sepals and petals are nearly identical in narrow shape and bronze color.

It has been a few years and a lot of C. araguaiensis flowers since I saw that first plant and I must confess the species remains an enigma. The flower projects its labellum as though it were a Cyrano de Bergerac with boldness and pride despite its out-of-proportion size. The plant’s shape, its four pollinia and single leaf at the top of the pseudobulb argue for it being a cattleya, but the single-flowered inflorescence and the virtually identical nature of the sepals and petals do not. A basic characteristic of cattleyas is the distinctly different look of the sepals and petals.

J. A. Fowlie in his article on the reappearance of Cattleya araguaiensis in the Orchid Digest (1982 Mar-Apr pgs.60–62), speculated that the plant was a “degenerate Laelia species, probably a Hadrolaelia species (such as Laelia pumula).” He felt C. araguaiensis’ ancestors started out with 8 pollinia then degenerated into a plant with only four pollinia. It is an interesting concept, but as a cattleya lover I have to take exception to any use of the word “degenerate” even vaguely relating to my favorite genus. Fowley’s premise could apply, after all, to Cattleya species in general not just C. araguaiensis.

Cattleya araguaiensis was described as a new species in 1967 by the Brazilian botanist, Guido Pabst, in the Brazilian publication Orquidea (Vol. 29:1 Tab V pgs. 9-11) In his description Pabst said, “The first impression this new Cattleya gives is that of a hybrid with a Brassavola as parent, so long and thin are sepals and petals.” He goes on to say that “The whole plant, the structure and consistency of the lip and the pollinia do not show, however, any possibility of it being a hybrid, although the column and the anther are also uncommon in the genus.” After showing how unusual C. araguaiensis is botanically from the commonly known Cattleya species, in 1975, Pabst put it with the large-flowered Labiata Group in Orchidacae Braziliensis where it has no similarity whatsoever with the other plants. With these kinds of wild conflicting views, C. araguaiensis might justifiably be called the “free-for-all orchid” historically.

Despite the fun and nonsense of its botany, however, Cattleya araguaiensis is a cute and unique little plant. It grows well in a three-inch pot in straight sphagnum moss and can fit conveniently on a narrow modern windowsill. The pseudobulbs are typically about three-inches tall and each bares a single flower that is about four inches across. The flower lasts in bloom for several weeks. The plant often produces several growths in a season and can flower from each of them. There are no distinct color types in C. araguaiensis as there are in most other Cattleya species,.The bronze color of the sepals and petals varies only slightly in intensity as does the reddish-lavender color in the lip.

There are darker forms of C. araguaiensis as shown here. Nearly all plants display just a single flower on each new lead.

C. araguaiensis gets its name from the Aruguaia River in the state of Goias, Brazil where it grows naturally at an altitude of 1300 to 2000 feet. The area enjoys a fairly stable night temperature from 63F to 69F all year, but the plants seem quite adaptable in cultivation and grow well for me at 60F at night in the same house with my Cattleya trianaei and C. mossiae. C. araguaiensis also seems to like the same bright sun and moving air as most Cattleya species and seems quite resistant to rot and other disease problems. In its little pots, it needs watering two or sometimes three times a week depending on the season. The plants begin growing in the early spring in the United States and flower in early to mid-summer.


Despite its extremely narrow sepals and petals and its bazaar labellum, C. araguaiensis has been crossed with Cattleya bicolor, C.maxima, C. loddigesii. C. quadricolor and two hybrids, Blc. Living Gold and Lc.Fenland Springtime, but the results apparently did not stimulate further breeding. C. araguaiensis is a delight to grow because it is about as trouble-free as any orchid I know. After you have grown it for while, it may even poke its long nose into your heart as it did with me and become a permanent resident in your collection.

Sunday, May 1, 2005 - 12:00