Rare Cattleya Species

I've admired the rare cattleya species for many years and finally have the resources to make a purchase. What recommendations do you have regarding those that are exceptional? Kevin H
While all 17 of the large flowered cattleya species possess endearing traits that taunt obsessed collectors into having to own them, three such orchids stand out above all others.
In the early days of orchid corsages (1930-1940) in the United States, nearly all the flowers that were produced were from plants that had been imported from South America. Hundreds of thousands of plants were ‘harvested’ from the jungles and shipped overseas to greenhouses where they bloomed in time for holidays and popular social events. Today, the very same species are grown by orchid hobbyists, not for cut flowers, but for potted plants.
The following cattleya species formed the backbone of the cut flower craze with varieties that bloomed in the fall, winter, and spring. All can be obtained in limited quantities from specialty growers for less than the price of a tank of gas.
C labiata – was the first cattleya discovered by the western world in 1817 in northern Brazil. The naturalist who found the plant did not tell anyone where it came from and it remained ‘lost’ for the next 70 years despite many attempts to find it in the jungles. Accidentally, it was rediscovered in 1899 by an entomologist searching for rare insects and, within a few years, nearly 25,000 C labiatas were being imported annually into Great Britain alone. This robust grower blooms in the fall with up to 4 or 5 large flowers in white, varying shades of lavender, and the striking combination of white petals and sepals with a dark purple ‘labiata’ ( latin) lip.
C trianaei – was found in 1842 in Columbia and named after botanist Jose Triana who discovered large numbers there. It became the National Flower of Columbia and grows abundantly in many parts of the country. In the US, it blooms in the winter when there is a scarcity of outdoor color. It also boasts the best round shape of all the cattleya species as well as the broadest range of color variations from lovely pastel shades to flared and feathered petal tips - all with delicate and glistening substance. The flowers last for six weeks which is more than many of the sophisticated hybrids of today.
C mossiae – discovered in Venezuela in 1836 and named after avid plant collector Mrs. Moss of England who bloomed one successfully in cultivation. A spring bloomer, C mossiae is often called “the Easter Orchid’ since it blooms in March, April, and May and was the ‘darling of the cut flower industry’ in the 1940’s and 50’s. Typically known for its rose-lavender hues and marbled frilly lip, this cattleya is the National Flower of Venezuela. Many growers consider C mossiae to be the easiest of all cattleyas to grow and bloom.

I received a Dendrobium orchid for my birthday last month and it is finished blooming. The potting media appears to be some type of rock/lava material. Where can I get more? Tru C
The best place to get lava rock is, of course, Hawaii which has the longest continuously erupting volcano in the world. Kilauea has been generating molten rock flows since 1983 but that hasn’t stopped hundreds of commercial tropical plant growers from making the Big Island their home. The entire town of Kalapana (including my friend’s orchid nursery) was completely flattened by a lava flow on the island in 1990 – all that remains is a miles long black gooey looking surface. Fortunately the residents had plenty of notice that the slowly advancing magma was coming….2 years to be exact.
It makes good business sense for growers everywhere to use locally available raw materials in the production of their plants. Hawaiians often use crushed lava rock and/or shredded coconut husk in their potting media. Many of their fertilizers are derived from fish and seaweed. And Don Ho is always playing on the radio.
The orchids that arrive here on the mainland are quite happy, having spent their entire childhood in a tropical paradise. They are often not prepared for the harsh world that awaits them in a dimly lit grocery or big box store. With any luck, a plant will make it to a loving home where it will receive proper care in the form of sunlight, water, and humidity. With continued luck, a plant will thrive to the point that it outgrows its container and needs to be re-potted.
Should the new media be the same type as the old? Sure, if you happen to have crushed lava rock sitting in your garage. Otherwise, it is time to consider more readily available types. After years of experimentation, we have found that the best potting media for Dendrobium orchids in Virginia is Fir bark chips – small size for young or compromised plants and medium size for everything else. Soak the bark in water for 24 hours before use. Combine with clay pots that are slightly larger than the root ball.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008 - 17:45