Maxillaria picta – 365 days of orchids – day 1095

Today the whole of the greenhouse was filled with the most gorgeous scent thanks to our large plant of Maxillaria picta, and many of you will have enjoyed the honey scent at Orchid Christmas on Saturday.

It reminds me of the first time we found the species in Brazil. In April 2000 a group of students and I were walking through regrowth forest at around 1200m and were stopped in our tracks by a powerful honey sweet scent filling the air around us. Nearby we found the remains of an ancient fallen tree and a plant of Maxillaria picta at least 1.5m across still growing where it had fallen (photo below)

Presumably the plant had survived the fire that had swept through this patch of forest about thirty years ago and carried on growing on its now dead tree which has since fallen. The regrowth forest still lets plenty of light down to ground level and so the plant is growing and flowering happily.

Our school plant still has away to got to reach the size of the Brazilian species but with six to eight flowers per bulb it is getting there fast. We are looking forward to the day that this plant is 1.5m across.

We grow the plant in Cool Americas and water it throughout the year. The moss that has grown on the top of the pot shows just how wet we keep it in the summer.


Laelia anceps – 365 days of orchids – day 1094

This wonderful orchid is always in full flower for our annual Orchid Christmas Celebration and this year was no exception. Flowers are really variable in shape and colour as shown by the three photos. The first is a more normal punk clone, the second is the very large flowered and large growing Laelia anceps ‘veitchiana’ and the third is an alba variety that opens greenish and then becomes pure white with a yellow centre to the lip.


The roof of Cool Americas is full of Lealia anceps flowers and it will stay that way until the end of January – very lovely in the darkest months of the winter.

This species is widely reported as being a significant part of the Mexican festival, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) which takes place at the end of October, but for us, this is a Christmas orchid. Perhaps it is the the climate in the UK or the cool temperatures of our Cool Americas section but all of our many clones flower from November to January with their peak at Christmas. The flowers are large and on strong spikes 80cm long with three to six flowers on a spike. The species is native to Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras where it grows in pine oak forest and coffee plantations from 500-1500m altitude. The wide distribution of the species and its relatively harsh habitat help to explain the ease with which the plant grows in cultivation and its tolerance of both high temperatures in the summer and cool temperatures in the winter. The wide distribution also gives rise to a wide variety of forms.

Can we take this opportunity to wish good growing to all those who purchased plants from us on Saturday. If you have any problems or questions please get in touch through the website.


A massive thank you to all our volunteers, students and visitors.

Now that the dust has settled on Orchid Christmas I would like to that all those who helped to make it such a fantastic day. Firstly, thanks to the Orchid Society of Great Britain for coming from as far away as London to put on such a lovely display – and congratulations to Martin for winning Best Species and Best Hybrid for his Cattleya specimens. Thanks also to Sara and Arthur, Burnham Nurseries, for bring ing such excellent plants for our visitors to buy.

Next I would like to thank the Mendip Wood Carvers who spent the day in the Mendip Workshop entertaining visitors with explanations of their craft and their passion.

Finally I would like to thank the fantastic adult and student volunteer teams. The food team lead by Agnes did an outstanding job of keeping our visitors happy and raised significant funds for the Mendip reptile group. Annie and Zoe did fantastic work in the greenhouse (with some great help from ex-students Jacob, Luke, Ike, Heather and Zoe), Chloe did a great job in the Lab, Gareth for his massive effort on the door, and Paula for helping out where needed. The student teams worked tirelessly all day, a great team in the greenhouse; Jess, Toby, Kate, Otto, Ed, Lilly, Rosie, Alex, the impressive Lab Team of Tallis, Harris, Issy, Laura and Hannah, the amazing Reptile group, Max, Jack, Harvey, the enterprise team, Ed, Chris, Ben and Callum, and the general help team, Aaron, Austen and Lewis. A real joint effort. Thanks Katherine, Martha and Cara for the Jewellery too.

The talks by Jess, Tallis and Otto were also a real highlight for many of our visitors, well done.




Dracula amaliae – 365 days of orchids – day 1093


It was wonderful to have so many visitors to Orchid Christmas Yesterday – thanks for coming. We had lots of interesting orchids in flower and one that caused a lot of interest was our ‘monkey faced orchid’.

This Dracula species is native to cloud forests in Colombia at around 1800m altitude. As with most Draculas it is pollinated by fungus gnats and attracts them with a fake mushroom shaped lip. This also give the ‘Monkey Face’ look shared by a number of species.

The species has the wonderful habit of flowering several times on a flower spike and so there are few open days when this intriguing plant is not in flower.

We grow the plant in Cool Americas but find we need to give a few Dracula specific conditions for the plant to flourish. Firstly it needs to be grown in  a basket (as you can see here) as many of the flowers grow downwards from the base of the leaves. Secondly it enjoys being very damp and heavily shaded. We find that the easy way to provide these conditions is to hang the dracula’s basket below another plant in a basket providing shade and added moisture. The level of moisture is shown by the natural growth of moss on the basket.

The final requirement is to avoid high temperatures which cause brown patches on the leaves and leaf drop. This is also helped by hanging below another plant as the dracula is at around waist height and not it the warmer air near the top of the greenhouse.

This all sounds quite complicated but as you can see it is well worth it.


Pleurothallis truncata – 365 days of orchids – day 1092

Orchid Christmas is here and we are open from 10am until 4pm. One of the real treasures to look out for in our Cool Americas section today is Pleurothallis truncata and our specimen plants is dripping with chains of remarkable little globular flowers on the top of each leaf.

As Joe’s close up shows that this leaf has produced three flower spikes (the most we have seen is four) and for the next eight weeks there will be a spectacular show in Cool Americas.

The species is endemic to Ecuador where it grows from 1700m-3000m altutide in cool wet forest. We find the species thrives mounted, in pots and in baskets but if allowed to become too dry produced lots of little plants on the leaves (keikis) rather than flowers.

The species has the delightful habit of flowering when really small (under 10cm high) but over time becomes quite large and the specimen plants shown here are 40cm across.