Prosthechea brassavolae – 365 days of orchids – day 1294

Some orchids take me straight back to the remote forests that they inhabit, and Prosthechea brassavolae transports me to the mountains of Costa Rica and the 2005 school expedition to the forests of Poas Volcano.

This is an impressive species, and one of our real favourites, with 40cm bulbs topped with two 50cm leaves, and the 80cm flower spike carries up to 30 large flowers.

We found Prosthechea brassavolae to be the most common large flowered orchid in the Bosque de Paz reserve in central Costa Rica. The habitat is wet evergreen forest at 1400m with lush epiphytic growth of ferns, bromeliads and orchids (our photo of the reserve below) on large evergreen trees. Prosthechea brassavolae grew mainly on the lower branches of the large trees competing with the other epiphytes and holding its flowers clear of the foliage to attract its pollinator.

The species is fragrant at night and probably pollinated by moths. In 2005, two A level science students tried to camp out at night by one of the flowering plants of Prosthechea brassavolae to try and photograph the moth in question. However the rain forest can be a bit spooky at night, and in Costa Rica is full of the sounds of exotic animals so the sixth formers lasted less than an hour before returning to the comfort of a hammock at the lodge. Perhaps we will have another try sometime.

Not surprisingly, given the habitat, the species enjoys cool temperatures, shade and lots of water. We have found that in common with other orchids from cool wet forests (Masdevallias and Draculas in particular) plants can suffer heat stress if too dry in hot weather resulting in black spotting of the soft green leaves.


Masdevallia paiveana – 365 days of orchids – day 1293

This pretty little Masdevallia species grows close to yeaterday’s orchid of the day, Masdevallia pyxis.

Masdevallia paiveana is native to Peru and Bolivia where it is found as an epiphyte in woodland around 2500m altitude.

This clone forms a neat little plant with 7cm leaves and attractive flowers produced on and off throughout the year. The flowers are covered in fine hairs which make them well worth a closer look.

We have a second clone of Masdevallia paiveana that is even more hairy but with otherwise identical flowers (below)

This clone is a little unruly as successive leaves are produced a few cm from the previous one giving it a scrambling habit but it is a strong grower and soon forms a large plant.We find that the first clone does well in a pot or a basket where as the second clone does much better in a basket to suit its scrambling habit.


Masdevallia pyxis – 365 days of orchids – day 1292

The charming and long lasting flowers of this easy to grow Masdevallia are a real feature of our Cool Americas section all summer.

This is a small sized Masdevallia native to Peru that grows in cool forest around 2300m altitude where it grows as an epiphyte of lithophyte. It has thick rounded leaves and the flowers are produced in profusion on stems much shorter than the leaves. The colouring is similar to Masdevallia oreas and several other masdevallia species but each has their own character and we are very fond of pyxis because of its vigorous growth habit and cute little flowers.

We find that growing the species mounted or in a small basket shows of the flowers to their best but it grows very well in a small pot. We find that it works well to stand the pot on something that allows you to see under the leaves.

We have flowering plants for sale in the shop this week.


Prosthechea radiata – 365 days of orchids – day 1291

This is a species that fills the greenhouse with its sweet scent at this time of year.

We have seen Prosthechea radiata growing abundantly in the hot lowland forests of Guatemala and Belize and the best place we have found to see it in the wild is the Ancient Mayan city of Tikal. Here it is easy to spot the species from the tops of the excavated Mayan Pyramids.

 The photograph here shows one of the large plants (in bud) near this pyramid which makes the climb up the wooden steps well worth it.

The orchids in this forest are dominated by large specimens which indicates that the dryish conditions do not suit the establishment of seedlings except on particularly wet years.

Our plant grew even bigger than the Tikal specimen and last year we split it into about fifty plants. These divisions are growing really and flowering on strong new bulbs.

We grow plants in Warm Americas where they are watered most days as baskets dry out quickly. It is interesting that for it to flourish in cultivation we grow this plant much wetter than it grows in its natural habitat. A key reason for this is very extensive root system epiphytes can develop in habitat where roots can run for several metres from a specimen plant. In cultivation deteriorating compost tend to reduce the number of years roots survive for and so the fewer roots are able to collect less water in cultivation.

We have found one more plant for the shop which will probably go quickly – a species not to be without.