Prosthechea cochleata – 365 days of orchids – day 1892

I always feel that our collection is incomplete any time that we don’t have prosthechea cochleata in flower. Plants flower pretty much throughout the year but our largest specimen is heading for peak flowering – hopefully to coincide with the Glasgow Botanic Gardens Orchid Fair (flier below)

Prosthechea cochleata never fails to take me to the lowand forests of Guatemala and a ridge overlooking Laguna Yaxha in Mayan Biosphere Reserve where I first found the species growing in the wild.

We have several different clones of this fascinating species and they flower at different times as well as lasting many months. The one above has smaller flowers and shorter stems and is its best in late spring and early summer. The plant below has larger flowers on longer stems and is more of an all year performer.

Orchid Project trips have seen the species in the wild both in Guatemala and Belize and so it is a species we know very well.

In Guatemala we found the species growing abundantly in the hot dryish forests around Yaxha and on plant in particular on the edge of the cliff overlooking the lake has provided a key to successful culture. The plant and its habitat are shown below.

The plant is growing near the ground on a live tree made horizontal by hurricanes and the position is open but shaded. There is some moss on the trunk showing that this spot is a little damper than most of the surrounding forest (probably due to morning mists condensing on the cliff edge) but most dramatic was the size of the plants root system. We recorded roots extending over 1.5m in either direction from the plant representing both considerable mass compared to the leaves and bulbs, and an extraordinarily effective moisture gathering system. This shows that although the plant comes from a dryish habitat it enjoys frequent watering in cultivation as our roots are no match for the wild ones. It is also very apparent that none of the wild plants we found had shrivelled bulbs.

In Belize the species (known locally as the Black Orchid) is the national flower and it was a pleasure to see it again on our visit to Belize in coastal forest along rivers and in large evergreen trees further inland.

The species is found across Central America, the Caribbean and into North America and this wide range has resulted in considerable variation within the species – a good excuse to grow several plants of this wonderful orchid. The range also extends away from the hot lowland forests and up to 1900m and so it is not fussy about temperature.

The species is pollinated by large butterflies that grab onto the protruding lower part of the lip (we like to call them butterfly handles) and then follow the radial lines with their proboscises to the nectar.


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