Famed Keyboard Player Grows Rock-inspired Hybrid

What do rock stars do when they are not on tour? They grow plants, of course.

And so it is with Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell who has been with the band for 35 years. Not only does he maintain an award-winning sustainable 2500 acre tree farm in Georgia with his artist wife, Rose Lane, but he also dabbles in orchids. Over the years, they have grown a number of phalaenopsis but the rigors of celebrity travel have made it challenging to care for them properly.

Now Mr. Leavell is between concert tours and is ready to try orchids again. This time with cattleyas. His starter plant is a 30 year old cluster-type bifoliate with a familiar name, Honky Tonk Woman. The hybrid was inspired by the Rolling Stones 1969 hit song.

Cattleyas are from the cloud forest and, as such, enjoy balmy temperatures, high humidity, and dappled sunlight. Hobbyists can duplicate these conditions in a south-facing window with partial shading and a small room humidifier or pebble tray. Beginning in May through the end of summer, these orchids love to be outside in diffused light. The flowers of most cattleyas last about a month and bloom at exactly the same time each year. Mr. Leavell can expect an additional 2 weeks from his hybrid.

Aside from its obvious floral grandeur, Honky Tonk Woman (or HTW to Rolling Stones fans) has a fascinating pedigree that would keep most botanists riveted.

The parents of HTW are dramatically different from one another. The sire, Blc Bouton D’Or, is a well-known yellow stud from the late 1960’s that produces medium-sized orangey yellow flowers. The dam is an obscure schomburgkia species from South America that is rarely used in breeding due to its tiny twisted petals and six foot long flower stem. Hybridizers generally shy away from these ‘low percentage’ crosses since the economics of growing them to maturity is unlikely to pay off. In the case of Honky Tonk Woman, only one seedling out of a hundred was worth keeping and it turned out to be a ‘breakthrough’ in the horticulture world.

A survey of the today’s marketplace yields some interesting orchids but nothing that looks anything like Honky Tonk Woman. There are sizable reddish cattleya flowers but not clusters of them. And the foliage of HTW is substantial with thick inflorescences that point straight up giving the blossoms excellent ‘carriage’. In 2014, the American Orchid Society bestowed its Highly Commendable Certificate onto Honky Tonk Woman which now carries the coveted initials, HCC/AOS.

Mr. Leavell, who was recently given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for his work with the Allman Brothers Band, now has a new pastime to keep him busy during the touring off-season. Legions of fans continue to follow his musical efforts and, every April, will be most interested to see if he can re-bloom his prized Honky Tonk Woman orchid. www.chuckleavell.com

Saturday, April 1, 2017 - 16:30