Tutti Fruiti, Coral Orange, and Fire Engine Red are just some of the words used to describe the intriguing flowers of Epidendrums – a fascinating genus of orchids with over 1000 known species. Hobbyists love these plants because they are easy to cultivate – thriving in a wide range of conditions as well as readily making baby plantlets. Once thought of as having tall, somewhat unruly, foliage, today’s hybrids are compact and quite manageable.
Epidendrums, often referred to as Epis, make clusters of flowers in the shape of a sphere. To add to the fun, new buds continually emerge from the center creating a sequential blooming which can last for months. Several dozen blossoms can be open at any one time as older ones fade away.
The eye-catching colors of Epis are the result of interbreeding four major species found in central and South America: E secundum, E radicans, E ibaguense, and E cinnabarinum. These species are plentiful in the wild and magnificent by themselves but put on a dazzling show when cross-pollinated for five or six generations. Through careful selection, hybridizers have been able to introduce hues that previously had only been imagined.
Hobbyists tend to favor genera which perform well and Epidendrums are particularly easy to grow. Some of the species actually reside in full sun along the roadside in their native countries. Thus, enthusiasts who have plenty of light such as a south facing window are likely to have success. In addition, some Epi species are tolerant of low temperatures approaching 32 degrees F which means that growers who put their plants outside for the summer/fall do not run the risk of cold damage.
The foliage on Epis bears some resemblance to both Dendrobiums and Vandas in that the pseudo-bulbs are tall and slender like Dens while the leaves are fan-like and tough like Vandas. Commercially grown plants of all three genera are often grown side by side in the same greenhouses. The potting medium of choice for Epis is seedling fir bark and the roots quickly adhere to the container.
One attractive trait of Epis is their ability to make keikis or babies from the canes or flower spikes. The roots from these plantlets run all the way to the ground and, in no time, there are multiple plants intertwined. Some hobbyists prefer to keep the plants together and turn them into one big specimen. Other hobbyists cut the babies off and make lots of small plants to trade with friends or expand their collection. When cutting off a baby, leave the plantlet on the mother for an extra year so that there are at least two pseudo-bulbs – which are more likely to survive.
Thanks to cutting edge breeding programs on the West Coast and Hawaii, the Epidendrum hybrids found on the market today are much more customer-friendly than just 20 years ago. In the mid-1990’s, it would not be surprising to find plants over 3 feet tall, bushy, and completely covered with roots, leaves, keikis, and flower spikes. Now we are seeing ‘pot plant’-sized offerings in which everything is compact – 12-16” tall and uniform. As a result, Epis are experiencing a surge in popularity among casual and experienced fanciers who are looking to add a little spice to their world.