Stelis aprica – 365 days of orchids – day 1485

Today we have Stelis aprica – a larger growing species than yesterday’s Stelis tridentata but with smaller flowers. Other differences include the flower spikes being longer and more arching in Stelis aprica and the leaves are longer and thinner rather than short and broad in Stelis tridentata.

Stelis aprica is native to the coastal cloud forests of Brazil that we have explored on our expeditions to the Mat Atlantica in 2000 and 2006 and was one of the first Stelis species I saw in the wild. It grows in wet forest but has relatively stiff leaves compared to many stelis to cope with the more seasonal climate experiences in the Barazilian cloud forests than many of those in from Peru up the Andes to Costa Rica in Central America. This resilience makes the species more heat tolerant and so easier to grow in the UK.

The flowers are small but produced in abundance from old and new leaves, over a long period, giving a lovely display.


Stelis tridentata – 365 days of orchids – day 1484

We have several miniature Stelis species in flower this month and Stelis tridentata is a delicate and free flowering example.

Stelis tridentata has 3cm oval leaves on short stems and each produces a 6cm flower spike of about 40 3mm flowers. The flowers are a diaphanous creamy gold. The species has a wide native range from Costa Rica in the north to Ecuador in the south and is found in cloud forest from 2000 to 2400m.

As a result Stelis tridentata is a cool growing species that enjoys this time of year when it flowers and grows profusely, but it can be challenging in the summer as it struggles with heat stress. We grow the species in deep shade and keep plants well watered throughout the year – the effort is well worth it.


Gongora unicolor – 365 days of orchids – day 1483

This is the second Gongora species we have features this week and like Gongora nigropunctata (below) – which is still in flower – has long pendulous spikes of fragrant flowers.

Gongora unicolor, like all Gongoras, uses perfume as a reward for pollinating Euglossine Bees. The male bees collect perfume off the slippery flowers and use it to attract a mate.

We find the species is one of our more vigorous Gongoras and although the flowers spikes are not that long and the flowers are less dramatic than some of its cousins (it lack of spots, eyes and bright colours of other Gongoras) it is always a welcome sight in the greenhouse and flowers on and off throughout the spring and summer.

The species is found in damp lowland forests from Mexico to Honduras and in common with other gongoras we find that it enjoys warm shaded and damp conditions in a basket.



Cattleya coccinea – 365 days of orchids – day 1482

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.


Stelis hirtzii – 365 days of orchids – day 1481

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.