Orchid breeders have an eye for selecting stud plants that impart desirable flower qualities onto the offspring. Common traits include vibrant color, round shape, and being floriferous. There is one type of Phalaenopsis, however, that is made using entirely different criteria.
In 1983, a large grower in Taiwan combined two faintly spotted yellows in the hopes of creating a more intensely spotted yellow. The lineage of the parents contained a number of species which had heavy markings including P gigantea, P amboinensis, and P lueddemanniana so there was the possibility of additional coloration. The resulting hybrid was more intense and named Golden Peoker with the best variety cloned and made available to the public.
One of the cloned plants bloomed with a slight deformity and had spots which overlapped each other resembling ‘blotches’. Though mutations are usually discarded in favor of pure genes, this plant caught the attention of the American Orchid Society who gave it a ‘Judges Commendation’ or JC/AOS. There was suddenly public demand for this particular Golden Peoker and so it was cloned again.
This time, there were even more mutations. The coloring was dramatic with spots that were large, intense, and random in their pattern. The horticultural world had never seen anything like this and it had considerable commercial appeal. This twice mutated Golden Peoker launched a whole new genre called ‘Harlequin’ (named after the comic servant from medieval French plays who wears zany checkered costumes). Many of the other big players in the orchid industry soon began breeding harlequins and, today, we have all sorts of randomly spotted hybrids to choose from.
Here are some tips when considering harlequin Phalaenopsis:
- The first flower that opens may not look exactly like the next flower and they may all be different.
- The color and pattern of the spots can vary with temperature. Cool weather increases color saturation while hot weather can nearly white out the spotting.
- The care and flower longevity is the same as everyday varieties.
Phalaenopsis shopping is much more interesting now that Harlequins are on the market. Though big whites and pinks will always be the best sellers, the mutated hybrids with random spots are quite popular and remind us of the light-hearted outfits worn by the mischievous devil, Harlequin.