Q) I just bought an Oncidium Twinkle that is the cutest thing ive ever seen. The whole plant fits in a tea cup! Do they come in other colors besides white? Kristi G.

A) Miniature orchids are in high demand at this time of year as indoor plant growing space is at a premium during the winter months. All major orchid genera offer diminutive versions thus every hobbyist can participate in the sport. A close-up photo of these tiny flowers offers no clues to its botanical dimensions since the shape and color are sometimes identical to full size versions.

How small is small when it comes to miniatures? The blossoms can be the width of a dime and the foliage just a few inches high. Two dozen of these ‘plantlets’ can fit in a windowsill and the often laborious task of plant watering can be accomplished in minutes. Orchid prices often reflect the greenhouse bench space that was required to grow the plants – in other words, the smaller the pot, the cheaper the price. Top price $25.

Here are three of the best miniature orchids on the market today:

Oncidium Twinkle – originally bred as white only, now recent varieties include red and yellow. It is not uncommon to have a hundred blooms on this little feller. The flower spikes themselves seem to take forever to develop – several months – as the branches and buds form - but then the blossoms finally open and shine for another two months. This little plant gives a big bang for the buck and even provides the highly coveted ‘wow’ factor. A spicy fragrance can be detected. This hybrid will spend its entire lifetime in no more than a 3” pot. The name Twinkle is fitting because the tiny white blossoms seem to twinkle like stars in the night sky. Its blooming time cooperates nicely with the holidays – beginning around Halloween and running through New Years.

Oncidium ‘equitant type’ – imagine an orchid even smaller than a Twinkle. Full grown plants of this genera reside primarily in a 2” pot. Now that’s small. They are also well suited for mounting on cork. All the petal shades of the autumn color wheel are represented here – rusts, plums, cranberries – many with polka-dots. Botanists recently reclassified these plants into a new orchid group called Tolumnias – though most enthusiasts will forever refer to them as Equitants. The flowers are quite large in relation to the triangularly shaped foliage – measuring a little smaller than a quarter. There might only be a dozen blooms but they stand perfectly erect 8” above the foliage just ‘floating’ in mid air. These dancing ladies are also fall bloomers but older plants can bloom multiple times a year.

Dendrobium Betty Nakada – multiple sprays of lavender blooms adorn this miniature whose green leafy pseudo-bulbs are less than 6” tall. The sprays arch gracefully in all directions under the weight of each delicate 1” sized blossom. As the plant matures and grows additional pseudo-bulbs, this hybrid could top out at a 4” pot but the overall height of the flowers remains compact. Like all Dendrobiums, this hybrid is ‘free-flowering’ which means it blooms whenever the mood strikes. Coincidentally, there is often a ‘flush’ of spikes in the fall – along with the other aforementioned miniatures. This winner was bred by the University of Hawaii over 25 years ago.

Care for all Oncidiums and Dendrobiums is filtered light and watering several times a week.

Sunday, November 13, 2011 - 17:15