Cattleyas for the Beginner - Part 2

Since cattleyas are adaptable to greenhouse culture in almost all parts of the world, they are to be found in most orchid collections today. For the greater part, hybrids are the general rule, but some species are still quite popular among hobby growers.

The recent transfer of the former Brazilian laelias and Sophronitis into Cattleya and the transfer of most of the former Central American Cattleya species to the new genus Guarianthe has somewhat complicated what used to be a fairly simple distinction among Cattleya species between those with a single leaf per pseudobulb and those that generally produce two leaves per pseudobulb. These two groups remain, however, significant pieces of the genus; the labiate cattleyas which have large, broad-petaled flowers borne severally on plants possessing one-leaved pseudobulbs; and the bifoliate cattleyas which have smaller, usually narrow-petaled flowers borne (generally) in clusters on plants with spindly pseudobulbs bearing two or three leaves. Species of these two sections as well as those recently transferred hybridize quite readily.

Horticulturally, there are about a score of more-or-less distinct species in the labiate section and about twice that number in the bifoliate group. At various times in the past, many of these have been considered to be only varieties of one or another of the species, but those listed below appear to be pretty well-supported genetically. Many Cattleya species are extremely variable in color, form, size, growth habit and blooming characteristics and because of this, the following information on a few of the more commonly grown species is quite generalized and approximate, serving only as an introductory guide.

C. aclandiae 'KG's Spotted Tiger' HCC/AOS; Grower: Kathy Figiel, Photo© Greg Allikas

Cattleya aclandiae: Brazil. Introduced in 1839 by Lady Akland, of Killerton, near Exeter, it was named for her by Dr. Lindley when he first described the species in the BOTANICAL REGISTER, in 1840. This is one of the smallest in habit among the Cattleyas, the slender, cylindrical, furrowed stems being from three to five inches long, the two leaves each from two to three inches in length. A short peduncle bears one or two flowers from three to four inches across. Petals and sepals are similar, fleshy, yellowish green transversely blotched and spotted with blackish purple. The rather fiddle-shaped lip is three-lobed, the lateral lobes small and curved toward the column, white tinged with rose, the midlobe broadly kidney-shaped, wavy, bright rose-purple veined with deep purple. The exposed column is short, thickened with wing-like margins, a deep amethyst-purple. Found growing near sea level on small isolated trees in the arid lands near the coast of the province of Bahia, over which a sea breeze blows constantly, it is a warm growing species demanding great light. It requires little compost but should be heavily watered during its growing season. Frequently it produces new growths and flowers twice a year, in May and June, its normal season, and again in the fall. Not common in cultivation, it is a delightful dwarf species with bold flowers, but it is does have a reputation as being difficult to grow.

C. amethystoglossa 'Crownfox III', AM/AOS; Grower: RF Orchids, photo: Greg Allikas

Cattleya amethystoglossa: Brazil. This species first appeared in the collection of Herr Reichenheim at Berlin and was described in 1856 in BONPLANDIA by Reichenbach as Cattleya guttata var. prinzii, named to honor Herr Print who had sent the plant from Brazil. It appeared in England in the collection of Mr. F. Coventry, of Shirley, whose solitary plant went to Mr. Warner in 1860. Figured in Warner's SELECT ORCHIDACEOUS PLANTS as Cattleya amethystoglossa. It has since been imported in large quantities from its native home in the province of Bahia. The stems are cylindrical, two to three or more feet high, bearing two leaves from four to eight inches long. Flowers are about three to four inches across, fleshy, in an upright cluster containing five to twenty flowers. Petals are similar to sepals but somewhat broader, petals and sepals bright rose spotted with amethyst-purple, especially toward the margins. Lip is three-lobed, the lateral lobes folding over the column, the middle lobe spreading, notched in the front margin, deep amethyst-purple. An intermediate to warm species, very variable in habit and floral coloring, it flowers anywhere from early spring to midsummer.

C. bicolor 'Tyrone', HCC/AOS; Grower: Charles Fouquette, photo: Loren Batchman

Cattleya bicolor: Brazil. Introduced by Messrs. Loddiges in 1836, it was described in the BOTANICAL REGISTER by Lindley in 1836. The slender stems are from eighteen to thirty inches high, jointed and covered with whitish membranaceous sheaths, bearing two leaves about six inches long. The inflorescence is nearly erect, with two to five or more flowers. Flowers range from three to four inches across. The sepals and petals are fleshy, with a distinct midnerve, greenish brown to olive-brown spotted with purple, the petals somewhat wavy, the lateral sepals bowed inward. The lip is wedge-shaped, without side lobes, curved downward with a central longitudinal depression or line, crimson-purple, occasionally margined with white. This species is unique in lacking the lateral lobes of the lip, a character usually inherited by its hybrid progeny, limiting its value in breeding. Variable in coloring, particularly with respect to the lip, this species is suited to intermediate conditions, blooms during spring and into midsummer, occasionally blooming twice, about March and again in September.

Cattleya dowiana: Costa Rica. Originally discovered by Warscewicz about the year 1850. Sepals and petals nankeen-yellow; middle lobe of lip broad and spreading, with velvety texture, rich crimson-purple streaked with golden veins radiating from the center, three heavier golden veins passing longitudinally from the base to the apex. The original collections were lost and it was not until 1865 that Mr. Arce, a native naturalist, rediscovered it, sending plants to Mr. G. Ure Skinner by way of a Captain Dow for whom it was named by Mr. Bateman in the GARDENERS' CHRONICLE in 1866. The flowers are from five to seven inches across, usually two but up to seven on a cluster. Becoming scarce in its restricted habit, it is seldom grown, the variety aurea being favored.

Cattleya gaskelliana: Venezuela. Introduced into England in the spring of 1883, by Sanders, it was named for Mr. Holbrook Gaskell of Woolton. It is intermediate in character between C. mossiae and C. lueddemanniana. Flowers large, six to seven inches, the color varying from medium amethyst purple to pure white. The lip is fairly large, the tube the same color as the petals and sepals, the lobe deep violet with pale border, the throat streaked with yellow and yellowish white. The flowers are usually soft but some fine varieties have been named. Blooms from mid-June to early September, growth beginning in early spring and flowering following without interruption. A nice variety for the hobbyist, still grown commonly, even occasionally as a commercial cut flower.

C. granulosa 'Claire', HCC/AOS; Grower: William Rogerson, photo: Rhonda Peters

Cattleya granulosa: Brazil. Discovered in 1840 by Hartweg who sent a single plant of it to the Horticultural Society of London, its habitat was reported as Guatemala. Subsequently Mr. Skinner sent specimens reputedly from Guatemala. Nevertheless, it is extremely doubtful that such plants actually were found wild in Guatemala and it is possible that either the plants were found in cultivation or the actual source was deliberately concealed to prevent other commercial collectors from locating it (a practice not infrequently indulged in, although condemned by those who respected the search for scientific knowledge). The species was described by Lindley in the BOTANICAL REGISTER FOR 1842. The jointed, somewhat flattened stems are from twelve to twenty inches tall, bearing two leaves six inches long. The flower stem is stout, erect, with from five to eight flowers, each about three to four inches across. The sepals and petals are yellowish olive-green, with scattered spots of red, the sepals oblong and obtuse, the lateral sepals bowed inward. The petals are a little broader than the sepals, with the margin slightly waved. The lip is three-lobed, the lateral lobes erect, whitish outside and yellow inside, the middle lobe clawed with a fimbriate kidney-shaped blade, the claw yellow, the blade white, covered with numerous crimson-purple granulations. Of intermediate culture, it flowers in the late summer and autumn.

C. intermedia 'Aranbeem', AM/AOS; Grower: RF Orchids, photo: Greg Allikas

Cattleya intermedia: Brazil. Brought by Captain Graham of the Royal Packet Service from Rio de Janeiro in 1824, it bloomed in the Botanic Garden at Glasgow in 1826 and was described by Hooker in the BOTANICAL MAGAZINE for 1828. Coming from a wide area of southern Brazil, it varies to a great degree and the exact circumscription of the species is not possible. It has very slender, jointed stems up to eighteen inches high, with two leaves five to six inches long. Flower stems are stout, three to five or more flowers, each flower four to five inches across. Sepals and petals are narrow, the dorsal sepal strap-shaped, the lateral sepals and petals curved downward, pale rose to milk white, occasionally dotted with amethyst-purple. Lip is trilobed, the side lobes rounded with smooth margins, overlapping around the column, the middle lobe amethyst-purple, spreading, with crisped and eroded margin. A favorite Cattleya of the bifoliate group, by virtue of its delicate coloring and bright lip. It flowers in late spring and early summer.

Cattleya labiata: Brazil. The true C. labiata is a free-flowering species, bearing from two to five flowers, each from five to six inches across. The petals and lip are well balanced, the latter being more open than in C. eldorado but not as flat as in C. dowiana. Although quite variable in color, the basic pattern consists of rose-colored wavy petals, sepals the same color, the ruffled lip rich crimson-purple bordered with lilac. The origin of this species is told in the introductory sections of this article. The species is among the most important horticulturally and for commercial flower production. While replaced in the cut-flower trade by its outstanding hybrid progeny, it is notable for the ease with which its blooming season can be controlled by the use of light. Starting its growth in late March or April, it grows rapidly in the bright warm summer months, flowering immediately in the fall from October through November. Since it initiates buds on a shortening day, it is possible to retard flowering by maintaining a long day with the use of artificial light. When the light is discontinued (according to a timetable best established by each grower) the normal process begins and the plants flower at a date much later than normal, being directed toward the Christmas holidays and later. An excellent plant for the hobbyist, as are many of its hybrids. Produces a double sheath, a character occasionally passed on to its hybrids.

C. loddigesii  'Mai Short Sweetheart', FCC/AOS; Grower: B. Andrus, photo: L. Livingston

Cattleya loddigesii: Brazil. Introduced into England from Rio de Janeiro by Messrs. Loddiges, of Hackney, under the name of Epidendrum violaceum early in the nineteenth century, it was placed into the new genus, Cattleya, under the name Cattleya loddigesii, by Lindley when he established the new genus in 1824. The cylindrical stems are about a foot high, with leaves from four to five inches long. Flower stem bears from two to five flowers up to four and a half inches across. Petals and sepals similar and nearly equal, the lateral sepals somewhat bowed, the petals slightly broader and waved along the margins, delicate rose-lilac. Lip is trilobed, the lateral lobes almost rectangular, erect, the front edge toothed, colored as the petals and sepals on the outside, whitish inside; the middle lobe spreading, much crisped at the margin, pale amethyst-purple; the disk whitish to pale yellow. A widespread species in southern Brazil, it grows in many types of situations, on trees, on bare rocks, in deep shade and in full sun, hence giving rise to a wide range of forms. The species Cattleya harrisoniana, treated above, is sometimes considered as a variety. There is a fine pure albino form, known as Stanley's variety, as well as numerous other outstanding varieties. The demarcation lines between this species, Cattleya intermedia, and several other so-called species are not sharp and a modern taxonomic investigation of the group would be worthwhile. Blooms in late summer, as a rule, but plants from different habitats flower at different times.

Cattleya lueddemanniana: Venezuela. Another species with a confused background, it has been grown under several names, including C. speciossissima and C. dawsonii. The type description, however, was by Reichenbach in XENIA ORCHIDACEA in 1854, in compliment to the gardener of M. Pescatore of Paris. From three to four flowers are produced, up to eight inches across, varying from purplish rose to pure white, the petals being nearly three times the width of the sepals. The lip is similar in color to the petals and sepals except the front lobe which is rich amethyst-purple, with two pale yellow or whitish blotches at the throat. The form is variable and this horticultural species is not clearly defined. There is considerable variation in its native habitats, hence, equal variation in the behavior of individual plants which may flower from spring to late summer, according to origin. Some forms are free-flowering, especially those which bloom early. Those which bloom in August and September frequently are more difficult to flower, probably because of the lack of cool night temperature in the summer months.

Cattleya luteola: Brazil and Peru. Described by Lindley in GARDENERS' CHRONICLE in 1853, it had been in cultivation for some years previously. A distinct species, from the upper regions of the Amazon, it is a delightful plant for the hobbyist. The habit is dwarf, five to seven inches in height, with ovoid pseudobulbs and leaves about three inches in length. The flower stems are shorter than the leaves, bearing from two to five flowers. Each flower is about two inches across, pale lemon yellow with the margin of the front lobe whitish and the side lobes streaked with purple on the inner side. The petals are not much wider than the sepals, the lip tubular with a ruffled but not wide-spread front lobe. Free-flowering throughout the year in its native Brazil where it is widely grown on trees, it is more reluctant in cultivation, blooming in early winter.

Cattleya maxima: Ecuador, Peru and Colombia. Originally collected in 1777 by the Spanish botanists, Ruiz and Pavon, who explored the Cinchona forests of Peru for their government, the specimens remained in their herbarium material until 1831 when it was partially described by Lindley in his GENERA AND SPECIES OF ORCHIDACEOUS PLANTS. It reappeared in collections by Hartweg in 1842, flowering in the gardens of the Horticultural Society of London in 1844, but died out. In 1855 it was flowered again by Mr. W. G. Farmer and has been in cultivation since, although never commonly nor as a commercial cut flower. Despite its name, it is not the largest of the Cattleyas, the flowers ranging from five to about seven inches across. The original form was deep lavender, the ruffled and spreading lip rose to lavender with a citron-yellow band running down the length of the tube, and a network of deep crimson veins covering the front lobe. The petals and sepals are narrower than in the labiata Cattleyas, and the form of the flower is quite open, bringing it into disfavor with the hybridists. However, it blooms freely, is vigorous in growth and the bright color of the flowers make them most attractive in the hobbyist's greenhouse. It frequently makes two growths a year and blooms from each, the season of bloom varying greatly but more commonly in winter. A plant with 13 blooms exhibited by George M. Wagner, Jr., received a Certificate of Botanical Merit from the American Orchid Society in February, 1949.

Cattleya mossiae: Venezuela. First introduced by Mr. George Green who received it from La Guaira, Venezuela, in September, 1836, it flowered in the collection of Mrs. Moss of Otterpool, and was named for her by Sir William J. Hooker who described it in the BOTANICAL MAGAZINE in 1839. One of the most popular and useful of the Cattleyas, it is extremely variable in form and coloring, particularly on the lip. A free-flowering, vigorous variety, it produces from three to four flowers on the spike, each flower from six to eight inches or more in size, the petals broad, somewhat fluted on the margins, the sepals and petals ranging from deep lilac to white. The broad lip is flattened but has a frilled margin, is very variable in color but basically is the same color as the petals and sepals, with yellow in the throat and disc, the front lobe marked with broken streaks or blotched with violet, the margin being lilac. This is commercially the most important Cattleya, blooming in April and May for the Easter and Mother's Day trade. Further, its blooming season can be somewhat modified through temperature controls, to fit the variable date of Easter. There are many new hybrids, however, providing competition in this field. The named varieties of C. mossiae are almost as numerous as those of C. trianae, its nearest rival in popularity and use. A wonderful plant for the beginner, particularly if a selected form is obtained.

Cattleya percivaliana: Venezuela. Named for Mr. R. P. Percival, an English orchid grower, it was described by Reichenbach in GARDENERS' CHRONICLE for 1882, having been introduced in that year by Sanders of St. Albans, through their collector Arnold, who found it in the Cordillera of Venezuela at altitudes around 4,000 feet. Two to four flowers are produced on each stem, the flowers about four to five inches across. Petals are rosy lilac suffused with purple, the sepals frequently a little paler. The lip is smaller than in most labiata Cattleyas, quite variable in coloring and beautifully frilled. The front lobe of the lip is crimson-purple, shaded with maroon and spotted with yellow toward the throat. Usually an easy bloomer and a vigorous grower, it was at one time highly valuable as a source of cut orchids for the Christmas season, but is now pretty much replaced by hybrids. Called the Christmas orchid because of the season at which it flowers, December to early January, it is a delightful plant for the hobbyist.

C. tigrina 'SanBar Giant', FCC/AOS; Grower: SBOE, photo: Lawrence Vierhelig

Cattleya tigrina (leopoldii): Brazil. This is the oldest name for what has long been known as Cattleya guttata var. leopoldii. A native of southern Brazil, found growing with Cattleya (Laelia) purpurata and C. intermedia in Santa Catarina and in other areas with C. guttata or C. loddigesii, the plants are large, reaching as much as 4 feet tall and can produce 20 to even 30 flowers per inflorescence. While considered bifoliate, the pseudobulbs usually produce three leaves. The characteristic that most readily separates this species from C. guttata is its habit of flowering from green sheaths as opposed to dried sheaths in C. guttata. The plants grow in coastal forests below 300 feet in areas with significant day/night temperature differential. The climate is seasonal with high humidity and rainfall followed by an extended dry period. Flowering usually occurs from mid- to late-summer.

C. violacea 'Lois', AM/AOS; Grower: Jack Wible, photo: Teresa Neal

Cattleya violacea: British Guiana, Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil. First discovered by the traveler Humboldt, it was described in 1816 as Cymbidium violaceum. Subsequently introduced into cultivation in 1838 by Sir Robert Schomburgk it was named Cattleya superba in Lindley's SERTIUM ORCHIDACEUM and became widely known under the latter name. In 1889, however, R. A. Rolfe in the GARDENERS' CHRONICLE demonstrated that the two species were synonymous and the earlier specific name should stand as Cattleya violacea. The stems are spindle-shaped, up to a foot high, furrowed, with two leaves up to six inches long. The flower-stem bears three to five or more fleshy flowers, each from four to five inches across. The sepals and petals are spreading, bright rose-purple suffused with white, the sepals smooth, and the petals broader, nearly rhomboidal and waved at the margins. The lip is bly three-lobed, the side lobes acutely triangular and rolled over the column, the middle lobe transversely oblong, convex, eroded at the margin, deep crimson-purple with yellow disk with white blotches on each side, streaked with deep purple. A warm species, needing a liberal supply of moisture, it is a strikingly beautiful flower with brilliant color, well worth the effort needed to grow and flower. It blooms in July and August.

C. walkeriana 'Palmetto Star', AM/AOS; Grower: Fred Missbach, photo: M. Pulignano

Cattleya walkeriana: Brazil. Discovered by the traveler Gardner around 1839, it was described by Hooker in the LONDON JOURNAL OF BOTANY for 1843 Cattleya bulbosa, described by Lindley in GARDENERS' CHRONICLE for 1847, is referable to this same species. A vegetative peculiarity distinguishes this species, for the flowers are not produced from the apex of the pseudobulb as in other Cattleyas but arise on separate short, slender shoots which spring directly from the rhizome at the base of the leaf-bearing growth (see footnote). This character is found only in this species and in Cattleya nobilior. The spindle-shaped pseudobulbs are up to five inches long, bearing two (occasionally one) leaves from three to five inches long. Inflorescence arises from a separate slender shoot springing from the rhizome at the base of the foliar shoot, one- to two-flowered. Flowers are large for the plant, to four and one-half inches across, ranging in color from bright rose-purple to pale pink-lilac. Sepals are pointed, petals more oval, twice as broad as the sepals. Lip is bly trilobed; the side lobes more or less erect on both sides of the column, their front edges turned outward; the middle lobe spreading, kidney-shaped with waved margin, a broad band of amethyst-purple surrounding the white or pale yellow disk which is streaked with purple This beautiful and distinctive species is slowly regaining popularity, for it has been found to be more common in Brazil than previously supposed. The flowers are long lasting and hold their shape for two or more weeks without wilting. It is widely cultivated in Minas Gerais, Brazil, where it blooms profusely. The blooming season varies, from fall to spring.

Guarianthe (Cattleya) aurantiaca 'Laura Palmieri', AM/AOS; Grower: Mario & Silvia Palmieri, photo: Maria Teresa Diaz

Guarianthe (Cattleyaaurantiaca: Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Originally described as Epidendrum aurantiacum by Lindley in the BOTANICAL REGISTER for 1838, this species represents the uncertain boundary line that by convention separated the genus Cattleya from the genus Epidendrum. It and the other closely related Central American species have recently been transferred to Guarianthe. The club-shaped pseudobulbs are a foot to fifteen inches high, with a pair of leathery, dark green leaves. The inch-and-a-half flowers are produced in an arching or slightly drooping raceme from the base of the leaves. The petals and sepals are similar, bright cinnabar-red in color. The lip is obscurely three-lobed, the middle lobe somewhat acute, cinnabar-red with several dark streaks or veins. There are several forms of this species, some being very vigorous with numerous larger flowers. Some forms do not open widely, some being truly cleistogamous, that is, self-pollinating. An easily grown species, of interest for its behavior as well as for the bright color of its small flowers, it makes a nice plant for the hobbyist, blooming in the spring and summer.

Gur. bowringiana 'Augusta', AM/AOS; Grower: Bill Rogerson, photo: R. Peters

Guarianthe (Cattleyabowringiana: British Honduras, Guatemala. Introduced by Veitch in 1884, and described in the GARDENERS' CHRONICLE for 1885, this species was dedicated to Mr. J. C. Bowring of Forest Farm, an ardent English amateur orchid collector. The clavate stems are a foot to twenty inches tall, swollen at the base, and bear two narrowly oblong, leathery leaves about six to eight inches long. The flower stem arises from a narrow, flattened sheath and bears from five to fifteen or more flowers which range in size from two to three inches across. Sepals and petals are bright rose-purple with somewhat deeper veining, the petals much broader than the sepals and somewhat wavy along the margins. The lip is narrowly tubular surrounding the column and externally similar in color to the sepals and petals, the anterior portion of the lip flaring outward without distinct lobes, deep purple with a central crescent of maroon surrounding the white to yellowish throat. This robust species is closely allied to Cattleya skinneri, at one time being considered a variety of C. skinneri, but is readily distinguished by the small pseudobulb-like joint between the two leaves as well as by differences in the flowers. It is easily grown and flowered, producing several leads and racemes of flowers each year, making it an ideal plant for the hobbyist. Its free-flowering character has been utilized in making hybrids which acquire this tendency to a high degree. A very fine form, with extra heavy substance and very broad, overlapping petals, is the variety splendens, probably a tetraploid form. The species blooms in the fall.

Gur. skinneri 'Casa Luna', AM/AOS; photo: G. Allikas

Guarianthe skinneri: Although the flowers of this bifoliate species from Central America are not as large as those of the labiate Cattleyas, this species is highly recommended to the hobbyist, particularly beginners, because of its very vigorous growth and free-flowering characteristics. The club-shaped stems are about a foot tall, bear two largish leaves and a cluster of five to ten fair-sized flowers, about four to five inches across. The petals and sepals range from pale to deep rose-purple, the lip a deeper purple with whitish disk and throat. Very similar to the fall-blooming Guarianthe bowringiana, Guarianthe skinneri flowers in the spring; typically March.

Cattleya Hybrids

Although the number of Cattleya species is relatively small when compared to some of the large genera like Oncidium or Dendrobium, the number of available hybrids is confusingly large. The beginner is usually bewildered at the vast array awaiting his choice and gropes vainly for guidance in the maze of cross names that dot the pages of orchid catalogues, a problem reinforced by recent nomenclatural changes. Regrettably, it is not possible to list recommended hybrids in the same way that species can be listed, for the progeny of complex crosses are even more variable than are the species, and the same cross name is applied to the progeny of poor parents as to the progeny of selected forms of the same name; i.e., (walkeriana x intermedia) is C. Walkerinter regardless of the quality of the parent clones used. However, if the beginner deals with a reliable commercial source, he can generally be assured of getting the value for which he pays. When choosing seedlings, nice flowers of an average level of quality can be had from moderately priced plants. Top quality award-winning flowers are not common and, hence, are expensive. The development of mericloning has forever changed the equation with regard to price of award quality flowers since it is now possible for everyone to have the same awarded clones for rather remarkably low prices. Just remember, when buying clones, you have the advantage of knowing the quality of the flower; however, there are thousands of other people who have the same clones. If you want unique plants, the way to accomplish this is to choose seed-grown plants. On the other hand, the beginner's real inerest should be in learning to grow his orchids well, at first, and on this account should look for hybrids possessing vigor, robustness and ease of culture and flowering, rather than highest quality blooms. He should keep his own cultural conditions in mind, and get crosses which have in their background those species most suitable to his conditions. He must remember, even the finest plants will not be satisfactory if they are not grown well.