We have featured lots of Maxillarias on 365 days and this is one of our favourites. Maxillaria porphyrostele was one of the first orchids to arrive at the Writhlington School Orchid Project in the early 1990’s and it is still going strong although it has been divided many times.
The species is native to cool mountain forest in the Mata Atlantica Brazil and we have seen similar species in the mild where they grow tight to the trunk and lower branches of trees in primary forests that have a wet summer and a cooler dryer winter.
We grow the species in our Cool America section in pots and baskets with free draining compost but heavy watering during the summer months when in growth. The 2cm pseudobulbs mature in the autumn and flower spikes appear from the base of the newest bulbs in early spring, each with a striking sulfur yellow flower. Looking closely into the flower reveals the purple column which gives the species its name (Porphyrostele = purple columned). The purple extends around the base of the lip too.
The flowers are long lasting if plants are kept dry when in flower.
One of our favourite Paphiopedilum species is the beautifully coloured and long stemmed Paphiopedilum appletonianum.
In common with most Paphiopedilum species P. appletonianum is a terrestrial, and this species grows in leaf litter and amongst boulders in warm forests from 300-1200m in South East Asia and Southern China. Plants have wonderful dark patterned leaves (almost as good as the flowers) and it enjoys deep shade in our Warm Asia section where we keep it watered throughout the year.
Paphiopedilum species are dramatic and beautiful orchids but unfortunately they are being driven to extinction by a range of threat and according to its IUCN Red List Entry Paphiopedilum appletonianum has been stripped from many its former sites and ‘the population trend is decreasing due to many threats including ruthless collection for regional and international trade, exploitation for horticultural purposes, logging, habitat degradation and human disturbance.‘
We have witnessed this threat and have seen hundreds of illegal wild Paphiopedilum plants for sale in Laos and India. These illegal plants do find their way into Europe where they masquerade as legal plants and so it is really important that people only but seed raised plants, and support conservation initiatives for the plants they love.
The photo shows wild collected Paphiopedilum plants in Southern Laos ready to be sent illegally to Thailand and sold as nursery raised plants.
We have had our seed raised plants since 1998 and every year they reward us with these beautiful flowers. Lets hope that generations to come will still be sharing their planet with this wonderful species in its natural habitat.
Spring is Paph time in the greenhouse and the first to flower is Paphiopedilum tonsum. This species which is native to North and Central Sumatra where it is found from 1000-1800m altitude as a terrestrial in deep humus and deep shade.
We have found that the species really resents bright light and so we keep it well shaded all year. We provide shade both with additional shading net and the natural shade from large plants (especially Trichotosia ferox) that grow above it.
In these conditions the attractive leaves flourish and flowers are produces on long vertical stems giving it a very stately presence. Plants flower throughout the spring and early summer with large plants flowering over a long period. As we mentioned in a previous post the likely pollinator is a wasp that will be temporarily trapped in the pouch before climbing to freedom up a ‘ladder’ of hairs at the back of the pouch, pushing past the stigmatic surface and emerging with the sticky pollen attached and ready to pass to the next flower it visits.
Bulbophyllum ambrosia is one of our most fragrant orchids with a wonderful scent of sweet warm honey.
As you can see from the photos this is a a very pretty species that produces masses of single flowers on very thin stems so that they appear to float around the plant. The species is native to Southern China and Vietnam where it grows in lowland evergreen forest, and we find it does well in our Warm Asia section kept shaded, and watered, throughout the year.
The species has a potentially straggly growth habit with a few cm between each bulb and so it is well suited to a basket of open bark mix where it can be tied back into the basket as it grows and eventually form a ball covered in flowers.
This plant is already looking fantastic and in years to come will become more and more covered in flowers. The flowers themselves are long lasting, especially if water is kept off them, and the plant is very attractive when not in flower with its long thin pseudobulbs and glossy leaves.
Now we are in February this gorgeous little miniature from Brazil is in flower again.
Sophronitella violacea is native to Organ Mountains in Brazil where it grows in forests around 1000m and its flowers are 2.5cm across which is really rather large for this tiny species with 2cm pseudobulbs each topped by a single leaf.
The Organ Mountains (Serra dos Órgãos) are a precipitous ancient granite mountain range near the coast in the state of Rio de Janeiro and the spot we visited during our expeditions to Brazil in 2000 and 2005 – Students on a ridge in the Organ Mountains below.
The species is hummingbird pollinated and it shares many characteristics with its relative Cattleya coccinea also from the Mata Atlantica forests of Eastern Brazil. In cultivation we find it likes to grow cool and bright and wet but enjoy really free draining conditions. We grow all our plants mounted and hanging high in the greenhouse where we spray plants daily except in warm summer weather when we spray them twice a day.
Flowers only last a week but are so utterly charming that we would never be without this species in our collection.