Today we are greeted by the joyful prospect of our first Cattleya coccinea flower of the spring. This plant is flowering for the second time from seed sown in 2014 and this year the flower is much larger, from a larger bulb, at 6cm across.
This wonderful small growing species with large flowers a classic hummingbird pollinated orchid with its startling scarlet flowers held clear of the 5cm leaves. This is one of our top ten orchids and always transports me back to the cloud forests of Brazil. I will take the opportunity of again posting photographs of the species flowering in the wild on our 2001 and 2006 expeditions to Macae de Cima, Near Nova Friburgo.
As the photos show, we found Cattleya coccinea growing as an epiphyte in mossy cloud forests in the Organ Mountains, and the plants here are at around 1200m altitude. Plants were mostly growing in exposed positions where they receive good light, frequent mists, good air movement and cool temperatures. During our visits temperatures were around 12C at night and 22C during the day. It was very noticeable that the forest was dripping every morning from the mists and dew.
New growths have a single leaf that becomes purple in bright sunlight and the flowers are produced from immature growths. The flowers are pollinated by humming birds and are variable in size, shape and colour. Some flowers are rounder, some more angular, and some have considerable yellow on the lip and petals.
This does not seem to be the easiest plant to grow but he challenge is to replicate the plants natural conditions – Cool, wet, bright and windy. It is definitely worth the trouble and the plant flowering today in the greenhouse is growing mounted high in our Cool Americas Section but in a spot that is easy to water so that we can soak it most days.
We still have Cattleya wittigiana in flower – a species found in the same habitat (see both below)
And nearby we have several other Cattleya coccinea plants about to flower. I will post a photo when they are all in flower to show the wonderful natural variation in the spectacular species.
A significant proportion of our orchid species we classify as miniature orchids. ‘Miniature’ is, as Einstein would say, “relative” and so there are miniature orchids advertised that are rather large. When a teenager in the 1970s, working at Keith Andrew Orchids in Dorset, I was excited to be involved in Keith’s breeding of miniature Cymbidiums including the highly awarded Cymbidium Bulbarrow (below). It is a lovely thing and small for a Cymbidium but does not classify at the orchid project as a miniature.
For us a miniature should flower in a 5.5cm pot or similar sized mount and fit in the palm of your hand – Today’s orchid, Stelis Hirtzii comfortably fits this criteria, although like many miniatures can over time become a rather larger specimen.
For anyone interested in miniatures the genus Stelis has a wonderful diversity of species with a general arrangement of many small triangular flowers on muliple flower stems. Stelis hirtzii is a pretty little species native to the cloud forests of Northern Ecuador. The leaves are about 1 – 2cm long and and the flowers are relatively large and very attractive, when looked at closely, with an orange brown ground and bright red stripes on the lip and column. The flowers are loosely spread along elegant upright spikes.
We find that the species does equally well mounted and in pots. A real bonus is the repeat flowering throughout the year. We grow the species in Cool Americas where it seems fond of a very shady spot where we grow the species wet all year.
Following our recent live Zoom to the Keynsham’s Avon Wildlife Trust Group a lovely article has appeared in the local newspaper. If you would like a live talk for your orchid society or wildlife group please send us an e-mail.
This diminutive orchid is one we are very fond of. Dendrobium eriiflorum is another Sikkim species, and one we found growing from 1500-2000m in the reserves of Fambong Lho and Maenam. It was growing on small mossy trees in regrowth forest where it enjoys a warm wet summer and a cooler dryer winter. We find the species does best in Cool Asia amongst the Cymbidiums and Coelogynes it shares its natural habitat with. We grow the species mounted.
The species is deciduous and usually drops its leaves just before flowering, although this is not always the case – here is the same plant flowering in 2017 (below).
The small flowers are fragrant and long lasting and the species is a true minature, flowering from pseudobulbs 3cm long although they will grow to 7cm. There is another form of the species found in South East Asia (which we have seen in Laos) that is larger and warmer growing, and more similar to Dendrobium compactum but this should probably be a separate species from the Sikkim type we have here.
It was a real pleasure presenting to our friends at the Hilo Orchid Society along with orchid enthusiasts from the other Hawaiian islands. Four students came into school especially (before 7am) to talk about their orchids and experiences in Sarawak. All students took a Lateral Flow Covid test to be able to attend.
The photo above shows Tallis presenting the lab and her seedlings while Issy, Laura and Ed presented in the greenhouse.
Our next live presentation will be on January 26th at 6pm when we present to the Friends of Bristol University Botanic Garden which we will have public access too. Watch the website here for joining details.