Q) I was recently given a lovely orchid. The only problem is that the flowers don’t look quite right. What’s going on? Jackie C.
A) Mother Nature is always trying to improve her little children, and orchids are no exception. She does this somewhat randomly it seems, as though not exactly sure of the outcome. Tiny DNA chromosomes are altered a bit just to see what happens. In the process, flowers with all sorts of mutations appear, some of which are quite significant such as no petals, two lips, half blossoms, etc. Other deformities can be as subtle as a purple streak at the tip of a petal. When the result is pleasing to the public, growers reproduce that plant by the thousands so that everyone can enjoy it.
The American Orchid Society defines an orchid flower as having three petals and three sepals rotating around a column. The lower petal is known as the throat or lip and is often colored and shaped differently than the rest of the blossom so as to draw an insect’s attention.
One of the best known minor deformities can be found in the class of Cattleyas called ‘Splash Petals’. The appearance of this blossom is dramatic for the petals have the same colorful markings as those in the throat. Laeilocattleya Oprah Winfrey is a fine example of this type of breeding. Only a few seeds produced this rare pattern. Over time, however, the look of ‘splash petals’ has become accepted and the American Orchid Society now fully recognizes and gives prestigious awards to this type of orchid.
On the other end of the deformity spectrum is the case of Phalaenopsis Baldan’s Kaleidoscope which is one of the most famous and widely distributed orchids of all time. Not only is the color extraordinary (yellow with purple stripes), but the plant is extremely vigorous and heat tolerant. Recently, however, a version of this industry standard has been circulating in which the petals are ‘stuck’ in the bud stage while the sepals open as normal. Some orchid enthusiasts say that extreme deformities such as this are no longer true orchids.
Not all deformities are genetic. Some are caused by adverse environmental conditions or even insect or pesticide damage usually occurring while the plant is forming buds. These problems only appear once and future blossoms are normal. When in doubt, re-bloom the plant and see what happens. What is pleasing to some is unappealing to others.