Guarianthe skinneri var. alba oculata- 365 days of orchids – day 1922

Today the lovely flowers of Guarianthe skinneri var. alba oculata has joined the mass flowers in our Warm Americas Section.

Guarianthe skinneri is national flower of Costa Rica and a species we have seen growing in tall trees in open forests around 800m with plants on the tops of thick branches in very exposed positions in strong sunshine. It is a very regular late April flowering species (hence the name Easter Orchid) and it always reminds me of our fantastic visits to Costa Rica in 2003 and 2007.

The oculata alba variety of Guarianthe skinneri has pure white flowers apart from the purple circle in the lip and a little yellow on the lip too.

In Costa Rica the species is known as guaria morada and when DNA evidence suggested that it should be moved from the genus Cattleya a new genus was created that reflected the Costa Rican name. (This was thanks to US botanist Bob Dressler who I have had the pleasure or working with in Costa Rica).

Anyway, the species is is fantastic which ever name especially in these lovely almost white clones (the usual colour is predominantly pink).

We replicate natural conditions by growing plants in baskets hung high in Warm Americas where they get lots of light and dry out between waterings although plants enjoy lots of water when in growth in the summer months but much dryer winters.


Masdevallia veitchiana – 365 days of orchids – day 1921

Continuing with Masdevallias, today we have possibly the most dramatic of all Masdevallia veitchiana.

The flowers look orange and red but this colour is actually made from the flowers combination of a yellow ground and tiny raised pink warts – a clever trick.

This species is endemic to Peru where it grows between 2000m and 4000m as a terrestrial amongst grasses and we are indebted to Henry Oakley for these great photographs of the species on Machu Picchu. This habitat explains the long flower spikes which carry the flowers well clear of the leaves and in reach of pollinating humming birds. We replicate these conditions in our Cool Americas section where it is kept damp throughout the year. We try to provide more light that for some of our Masdevallias.

The Incas call the species Wajanki.


Masdevallia coccinea – 365 days of orchids – day 1920

Are masdevallia species have featured heavily lately and as May approaches we have the splendour of Masdevallia coccinea.

Masdevallia coccinea is a very rewarding species and produces masses of large brightly coloured flowers in a range of colours including white, yellow, red and pink. It comes from Colombia and Peru where it grows in cool wet forest up to 3000m altitude. The long flower spikes hold the flowers well clear of the leaves for its hummingbird pollinator. Our first clone to flower is always this slightly smaller growing light pink form. It benefits from being a good grower and producing lots of flower spikes.

This clone is followed by our pure white ‘alba clone’ with longer flower spikes but an equal profusion of long lasting flowers. We have other dark pink clones that are in bud and will flower during June and July (previous flowering shown below)

We grow all of our Masdevallia coccineas in baskets and find that they enjoy the moist conditions and excellent drainage, allowing the thick roots to flourish. Baskets also keep plants inaccessible from slugs and snails that are very partial to the root tips, new growths and flowers.


Sobralia xantholauca – 365 days of orchids – day 1919

Today’s Sobralia is even bigger than yesterday’s Sobralia macrantha with caned up to 3m long.

The species is native to Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia, where it grows as a terrestrial or epiphyte, produces its thin canes about 3m long, and in late spring these large (15cm across) flowers that last about two days. This is a lot of leaves and stems for a couple of days flowers but we are really fond of the species as it has a dramatic splendour all of its own. Each stem will produce a two or three flowers successively over five or six weeks, so actually the flowering period is well over a month.

We grow the species in large pots in our Warm Americas section with a minimum of 15C and good light and we spray the plant daily.

We divided our giant plant during lockdown and we will have plants for sale at shows including the Devon Orchid Show on 7th May. The show is in Budleigh Salterton from 10.30am to 4pm and always a good day out by the sea – do join us.


Sobralia macrantha – 365 days of orchids – day 1918

In complete contrast to yesterday’s miniature Stelis species, we have had an explosion of gigantic flowers on our Sobralias.

This enormous flowered orchid has always been a real favourite for students responsible for our Warm Americas section

Sobralia macrantha is found from Mexico to Costa Rica where it grows as a terrestrial in leaf litter, and its massive flowers are matched by the plant with thin canes that grow to a height of around 1.5m with alternate dark green tough leaves. The terminal flowers open successively over a period of several weeks. The flowers are fragrant but only last two to three days.

The lip of flowers have a charming creased look from being all folded up in the bud but when fully open the flowers a about 20cm across and 25cm from top to bottom.

We grow our plants in pots of bark and moss to replicate the natural habitat in Central America and keep plants watered all year in our Warm Americas section where plants get a minimum if 15C and bright light.