Spring is the season when this Venezuelan species bursts into flower!
It must have been fun to be an orchid enthusiast and live in London in the 1880s. You could see a new display of orchids two or three times a week. You could see the displays even if you only worked in London, because they were usually held from 11 am to 2:30 pm weekdays — during your lunch break.
The Rainbow Cattleya
John Rolfe was one of the giants of the orchid world during the late 1800s. He was one of the most knowledgeable and hardworking orchid botanists of his time, and was ultimately recognized for his accomplishments with Britain's highest honors, including the Victoria Medal of Honor and the Veitch Memorial Medal.
The large-flowered Cattleya species have suffered from a bad case of botanical heartburn for more than 150 years — and some of the mistakes of the past never seem to be corrected. For Laelia purpurata, which is really a Cattleya, things even seem to be going from bad to worse, as I see recent efforts to reclassify this wonderful large and showy species as a member of the genus Sophronitis, which is composed of miniatures (Lindleyana, 15:118).
The Smoke and Mirrors Cattleya
Shakespeare must have been a frustrated taxonomist when he wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” because only a taxonomist would suggest the possibility of giving a rose another name. Names are what we give plants so we all know what we are talking about. They are the everyday words that simplify our everyday life. I know what a rose is, and an apple and a pear, but I am beginning to wonder about some of the names taxonomists are inflicting on orchids these days.
For over 24 years after its discovery in 1866, Cattleya dowiana reigned supreme in the genus as the only yellow-petal species. It was considered the most beautiful cattleya of its day by far, and it soon became the species most widely used in breeding the large flowered hybrids.
The Sleeping Giant
Text and Images by A. A. Chadwick