The beginning of the 21st century brought the United States a new first lady, and with her, a new kind of cattleya.
Laura Welch Bush knew that she wanted to be a teacher since the 2nd grade. As a high school student, she read every chance she could. She earned an undergraduate degree in Education from Southern Methodist University and a graduate degree in Library Science from the University of Texas. Her first teaching job was at a public school in Dallas.
In 1977, Laura married George Walker Bush, the son of former Texas Congressman George H.W. Bush. She was not interested in politics and tried her best to avoid the spotlight.
After George W. Bush became Governor of Texas in 1995, Mrs. Bush began promoting health, education, and literacy. She broadened these initiatives when her husband was elected the 43rd President of the United States. Her many accomplishments include organizing the National Book Festival and founding the Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries.
Blc Laura Bush (Good News x C walkeriana)
The cattleya named after Laura Bush is a departure from the big showy hybrids of the past and represents a trend in cattleya breeding toward smaller, more compact plants. Over the previous 12 presidential administrations beginning with Herbert Hoover in 1929, the orchids named after U.S. First Ladies were the 'classic' large flowered cattleyas. 'Classic' in that the blossoms measured 6-8” across and the foliage was upwards of 18” tall.
Brassolaeliocattleya Laura Bush, however, is medium sized both in flowers and foliage thanks to the addition of the Brazilian species, C walkeriana as a parent. In its native country, this dwarf cattleya has countless color forms and varieties such that entire orchid shows are devoted to this one species.
Parent #1 – C walkeriana
When the collector, M. Gardener, first described Cattleya walkeriana in the 1843 London Journal of Botany (2-662), there was little doubt that it was a new species. It was so different in its flowering habit that it could not be mistaken for anything else. Unlike other cattleyas that bloom from the top of the pseudobulb, C walkeriana sends out a flowering stalk from the base of the previous pseudobulb which is unique in the orchid world.
Cattleya walkeriana was discovered by Gardener “on the stem of a tree overhanging a small stream which falls into the Rio Sao Francisco, Brazil.” Gardener named the orchid after Edward Walker who travelled with him and took care of the plants that he collected.
Cattleya walkeriana was such an unusual plant that it seems everyone wanted to describe it botanically. In 1847, John Lindley described a variation of C walkeriana as Cattleya bulbosa. Reichenbach described it as Epidendrum walkeriana when he was feverishly trying to redefine the genus Cattleya. He later changed it to Cattleya gardneriana in 1870 (Gard. Chron p 1473). Barbosa Rodrigues in his Genera et Species Novarum (vol. 1, pg.68 1877) called it Cattleya princeps. An array of botanical authorities from Rolfe, Veitch, and O’Brien in the UK to Du Boisson, Cogniaus, and Linden, however, stuck to the original name, Cattleya walkeriana, and all the rest faded away.
One of the earliest hybrids using C walkeriana was bred by and named after the 2nd President of the American Orchid Society, C Fitz Eugene Dixon (walkeriana x Portia) in 1922. The hybrid was only half the height of its parent, C Portia, yet it still had clusters of medium-sized flowers which lasted a long time and were fragrant. By 1946, there were over a dozen new hybrids registered with Walker’s cattleya.
It took breeders a long time to realize the true potential of C walkeriana. The fashion during the glamorous corsage days of the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s called for large flowered species such as Cattleya trianaei, mossiae, and labiata and plants with smaller blooms such as C walkeriana were relegated to novelty breeding.
As the orchid pot plant industry took hold of the U.S. in the 1970’s, C walkeriana became more attractive. Since then, there have been hundreds of hybrids made using C walkeriana and breeders show no sign of stopping.
Some of the many popular crosses made using C walkeriana include C Mem. Robert Strait (x Wayndora), Lc Love Knot (x L sincorama), Lc Mini Purple (x L pumila), Bc Little Mermaid (x Bc Maikai), and C Sierra Doll (x Pink Doll). C walkeriana has such good shape that there have been 79 AOS flower quality awards.
In its native country of Brazil, C walkeriana has two flowering seasons: March-May and October-December. The plant is noted for its dwarf foliage with pseudobulbs measuring only 2-6 inches high. The blossoms, on the other hand, are typically 4 ½ inches wide. The combination of small leaves, medium-sized flowers, and twice a year blooming has made C walkeriana an attractive choice for modern breeders whose clients have small growing areas.
Growers are advised to keep this species on the dry side as plants tend to rot with over-watering. As a result, a bark mix or mounting is recommended. C walkeriana has the reputation of being a ‘shy bloomer’ in that the conditions have to be ideal in order to get blossoms.
Parent #2 - Blc Good News
The other parent of Blc Laura Bush is Blc Good News (Lc Persepolis x Meditation) which was bred in 1988 by Carmela Orchids of Hakalau, HI. Blc Good News is a very complex hybrid, containing 10 species over 6 generations.
Some varieties of Blc Good News have prominent purple flares on the petals – a trait which can be traced to its parent, Lc Persepolis, and possibly all the way back to the species. C trianaei, C mossiae, and C gaskelliana are all known to have fine varieties with flaring on the sepals and petals and can be found in the lineage of Good News.
There have been four awarded varieties of Blc Good News. The first, ‘Hawaii’ AM/AOS, was exhibited by the Hawaiian breeder at the Greater New York Orchid Society Show. Imagine the difficulty in shipping a fragile blooming cattleya from Hawaii to New York and have it arrive unblemished and ready to be inspected by a panel of judges. In addition, the plant had to compete with the thousands of other entries in the orchid show.
One of the interesting traits of Blc Good News is that there are varieties which bloom any time of the year. The four AOS awards were from April, July, September, and November.
Carmela bred Good News using the classic semi-alba stud, Lc Persepolis ‘Splendor’ AM/AOS.
Lc Persepolis is a fascinating cattleya hybrid. It is the name of the ancient capital of Persia and there are still imposing ruins in southern Iran.
In 1973, at the request of a wealthy Iranian businessman and orchid collector named Ahmad Sheiki, Armacost named one of their promising new semi-alba crosses, C Kittiwake ‘Brilliance’ AM/ODC x Lc Pegi Mayne ‘Lines’. (Hobbyists are familiar with Lc Ahmad Sheiki (C Kittiwake x Mem. Maggie Hood) which is found in many collections today.) The only awarded variety of Lc Persepols, ‘Splendor’ AM/AOS (88 points) was a stunning flower – large, round with an intense dark purple lip that stood out against the paper white sepals and petals. There were also purple flares on the tips of the petals. Splendor soon became a stud plant for dozens of outstanding semi-alba crosses.
Carmela combined Persepolis with the classic Hawaiian stud, Blc Meditation (Bc Deesse x Lc Fedora) to make Blc Good News. Most varieties of Meditation are pure white but variety ‘Queen’s Dowry’ has a hint of purple in the throat and is known to breed semi-albas. ‘Queen’s Dowry’ was used to make Good News.
Gerritt Takasaka of Carmela Orchids is credited with making the cross Blc Good News x C walkeriana. Carmela has a long history of breeding fine cattleya hybrids with over 80 registered crosses including Blc Joann Yukimura (C Fred Stewart x Mem. Crispin Rosales), Blc Cornerstone (Bryce Canyon x Mem. Crispin Rosales), and Mem Anna Balmores (Mem. Robert Strait x Blc Good News).
The legendary founder of Carmela Orchids, Yasuji Takasaki, passed away in 2011 at age 95. Well into his 90’s, he continued to work with the plants in his nursery and attend local orchid society events. At one meeting he demonstrated the rigorous exercise program that enabled him to stay so fit. The Hilo Orchid Society honored Yasuji by naming a scholarship fund to the University of Hawaii after him.
We grew dozens of seedlings of the un-named cross, Blc Good News x C walkeriana, and started to bloom them. We were amazed by the ‘starburst’ pattern of the flowers – the purple flares of all sizes radiating along the sepals and petals. It gave the blossoms a ‘patriotic’ look which seemed appropriate for the first lady, Laura Bush, whose husband had been President during the tragic 9/11 events. Carmela gave us permission to name the hybrid.
As the seedlings bloomed, we took note of the coloration. All the flowers were semi-alba. The degree of magenta flaring ranged from barely noticeable to heavy splashes on all five sepals and petals.
Like the parent, C walkeriana, some of the Laura Bush seedlings bloomed twice a year. It was obvious which plants took after the taller growing Good News and which stayed small like C walkeriana. In all cases, the flowers lasted a month or more and the flower count was 1-2 blossoms.
Each year in Washington, D.C., there is a social event called the First Lady’s Luncheon, in which spouses of the U.S. Senators have lunch with the sitting First Lady. In 2006, the United States Botanic Garden (USBG) hosted the event and the Executive Director, Holly Shimuzu, called us to see if we had any Laura Bush seedlings in bloom.
We picked the best plant and personally delivered it to the garden the day before the event. One of the nice things about having our nursery located in Richmond, VA is the close proximity to the nation’s capital. The garden staff arranged the prized cattleya in a fancy bowl with small white phalaenopsis and an engraved botanical nameplate. As can be seen from the photograph, Mrs. Bush was thrilled.
Few First Lady cattleyas have ever been recognized by the American Orchid Society with flower quality awards. Laura Bush has two varieties - ‘Carmela’, which was originally given a Highly Commended Certificate and later upgraded to an Award of Merit, and ‘First Lady’ AM/AOS.
Shortly after we received the award for ‘First Lady’ in 2013, we contacted Mrs. Bush’s office with the exciting news and offered to send her one of the namesake orchids. She was delighted and hand wrote a note, “Thank you for sending the lovely Laura Bush orchid to me. And congratulations on the prize it was awarded! George and I enjoyed its beautiful blooms here in our house in Dallas.” In addition, she emailed a photo of her holding the orchid at her Dallas residence.
Mrs. Bush and Plants
Mrs. Bush's love and knowledge of flowers cannot be overstated. While at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, she was a frequent visitor to the United States Botanical Garden often with her family or garden club. In 2006, she attended the official ribbon cutting ceremony saying, “America’s National Garden is a tribute to our country’s First Ladies, a beautiful addition to the Washington landscape, and a symbol of our country’s civic spirit.”
Mrs. Bush is a longtime supporter of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, founder of the conservation group Texas by Nature, and she is honorary co-chair of the National Park Service’s Centennial Celebration with Michelle Obama. Visitors to the George W. Bush Presidential Center can also enjoy Mrs. Bush’s ‘Urban Park’, a 15 acre native Texas Park filled with prairie grasses and wildflowers. (www.bushcenter.org)
Plant lovers everywhere applaud Mrs. Bush’s enthusiasm for orchids. Not only did she accept her namesake cattleya, but she always keeps orchids on display in her home. She has two other genera named after her – a Vanda from R.F. Orchids in Homestead, FL and an Aranda from the Singapore Botanical Gardens. Orchids are one of her favorite flowers.