The Merry Sisters of Spring
Having won the greatest war of the 20th century, President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953 ushered in 8 years of calm and stability not seen in the United States for 50 years and, in the process, opened the Golden Age of Cattleya Orchids. First Lady Mamie Eisenhower was the symbol of prosperity and elegance and she loved cattleyas. She was rarely seen in public without her corsage of 2 or 3 cattleya flowers during her husband’s entire two terms.
One of my favorite times of year is early summer, not because the sun is at its brightest then, or because the days stretch lazily into long warm summer evenings, but because this is when my favorite Cattleya species, Cattleya warscewiczii, blooms.
As the newness of spring begins to wane and the summer sun smiles down from its place high in the sky, we find ourselves with a greenhouse full of the lovely Brazilian Cattleya warneri. This delightful species provides a display of lavender and purple that rivals and is reminiscent of its autumn-flowering sister from Brazil,Cattleya labiata. Were it not for their wide difference in blooming season, the flowers of one could easily be mistaken for the other.
Winter may be a dreary time of the year with its overcast days and long somber nights, but for those who grow Cattleya trianaei, it is a time to enjoy one of nature’s most colorful and captivating flowers.
Baron J. H. W. von Schröder had one of the finest orchid collections in Europe and he loved cattleyas. The largest and grandest greenhouse on his estate near Windsor was built just for cattleyas, and his appetite for fine Cattleya species was insatiable. At The Dell, as he called his estate, he wanted only the best and nothing less would do.
Cattleya quadricolorfirst appeared in Europe in 1848 when an English orchid grower named Rucker received a single plant from a friend traveling in Colombia. When the plant flowered in 1849, Rucker sent the flowers to the botanist John Lindley, asking him what it was. The only large-flowered Cattleyaspecies known at the time were Cattleya. labiata and Cattleya mossiae, and Lindley thought the flowers Rucker sent were different enough from these two species to mention the plant in an article he wrote for Paxton’s Flower Garden.