Let There Be White!

May 2023 - by By Leon Glicenstein/Photographs by Leon Glicenstein unless credited otherwise.

Oh, I may be cheating a bit in that a few may have greenish lateral sepals. Also, I do not claim to show all the presently known white hybrids

In 2017 the hybrid of Habenaria (lindleyana × medusa) was registered as Habenaria Kat’s Whiskers. As expected, the side lobes of Hab. medusa were radically reduced in size. The side lobe size reduction is a trait seen when using Hab. lindleyana as a parent. It was named for my cat, Kat; although Kat does have black whiskers. A well-grown plant can be up to 4 feet (1.2 m) tall (including the inflorescence) and have over 40, 1½-inch (3.8 cm) white flowers.

[1] Pecteilis Kiat Tan (susannae × hawkesiana). Photograph courtesy of the Singapore Botanic Garden

Chu and Charlot’s hybrid, Habenaria Fornix (medioflexa × crinifera), was registered in 2020. This was one of the first registered hybrids to use these species. The flowers are not very large, but a wellgrown plant can produce a tall, showy inflorescence filled with white fringed-lip flowers. The sepals are green.

Chu and Charlot also made the hybrid Habenaria (medioflexa × carnea), which was registered as Habenaria Cerebellum. Although some of the flowers may have a very pale pink cast, most are white. Habenaria carnea reduced the beautiful fringe of the side lobes of the Hab. medioflexa to just a little pinking (as if cut with pinking shears) around the side lobes of the lip; however, the flower has a very full shape, and a natural spread of about 1.5 inches (3.8 cm).

Joel Graham, in 2022, registered the beautiful hybrid Habenaria Memoria Ruth Bader Ginsberg. This is a backcross of Habenaria Pegasus (carnea × medusa) with Hab. medusa. The flower can be about 2 inches (5.1 cm) in natural spread. The best forms have the dark red claw of Hab. medusa. When Graham brought one into the National Capitol Judging Center, the judges described it as an elegant Hab. medusa and it received an Award of Merit (AM).

[2] Habenaria Kat’s Whiskers (lindleyana × medusa)
[3] Habenaria Fornix (medioflexa × crinifera)

A second heavily fringed hybrid was created by Chu and Charlot, and registered in 2020 as Habenaria Arbor Vitae. This is a hybrid of Habenaria (medioflexa × trichosantha) and represents the use of Hab. trichosantha in hybridizing. Both species have compoundedly fringed side lobes, and this comes through in the hybrid, so that the fringes of the side lobes look like egret plumes. The natural spread of the flower is approximately 2 inches (5.1 cm). It too is an elegant flower.

There are approximately 800–1,000 species of Habenaria found on all the continents of the world, except, for the moment, Antarctica (I wonder what orchid will be the first to grow and flower there as the climate warms). Up to now, to my limited knowledge, there have been no successful hybrids made between the habenarias of the New World and the Asian species. Most of the registered artificially made habenaria hybrids have been between species of Asia or some Pacific Islands (there are a few natural hybrids from other areas). In 2020, Terada and Flachland, from Argentina, registered the hybrid Habenria Iberiá FCA using their native Habenaria gourlieana and Habenaria bractescens. The tall inflorescence produces a multitude of 2-inch (5.1 cm), intensely night-fragrant, white flowers.

[4] Habenaria Cerebellum (medioflexa × carnea)
[5] Habenaria Memoria Ruth Bader Ginsberg (carnea × medusa)
[6] Habenaria Arbor Vitae ‘REO’ AM/AOS (medioflexa × trichosantha). Photograph by Nicholas Rust.
[7] Habenaria Iberá FCA (gourlieana × bractescens). Photograph by Eduardo Flachland.
[8] Habenaria Spoleto ‘REO’s Snowstorm’ (carnea f. nivosa × Trogon). Photograph by Nicholas Rust.
[9] Pectabenaria Wow’s White Fairies (Pecteilis susannae × Habenaria medusa). Photograph by Nam Fook Lee.
[10] Pectabenaria Perseus (Pecteilis hawkesiana × Habenaria medusa)
[11] Pectabenaria Little Angel (Habenaria carnea × Pecteilis hawkesiana)

I am not sure whether to include Habenaria Spoleto, made by Nicholas Rust of RustyExotics Orchids, because, unlike the previously described hybrids that have mainly white flowers, most of the seedlings from this cross have colored flowers; however, one clone is a brilliant white. The cross is Hab. (carnea f. nivosa × Trogon). The Habenaria Trogon (Tracy × Oriole) used had an orange lip, and most of the progeny had orange or yellow lips. Rust registered the hybrid in 2022 and the white clone is Hab. Spoleto ‘REO’s Snowstorm’. I hope he will be able to propagate this clone so we can all get one.

[12] Pectabenaria Ptarmigan (Pecteilis Snow Bird × Habenaria medusa) produced flowers with variable lip fringe, varying from those with virtually no fringe to very fringed (inset)

Currently, most white habenaria hybrids are actually hybrids with Pecteilis, and are called Pectabenaria hybrids.

In 2008, Nam Fook Lee, of Southeastern Asia, registered his hybrid of Pecteilis susannae × Hab. medusa as Pectabenaria Wow’s White Fairies. Having heavily fringed side lobes, the white flowers are often over 2 inches (5.1 cm) in natural spread and can be carried on a 3-foot (0.9 m) inflorescence. This was the first use of Hab. medusa in hybridizing.

In 2011, using the much shorter and fringeless Pecteilis hawkesiana, instead of the tall and fringed Pec. susannae, again with Hab. medusa, produced Pectabenaria Perseus. It was named for Perseus of Greek mythology, who slew the Gorgon, Medusa, because most of the Hab. medusa fringe was greatly reduced to short fringes, that is, killed off. The flower has a natural spread of about 1.5 inches (3.8 cm), and there can be more than 25 flowers on the over 2-foot (60 cm) inflorescence.

The cross of Hab. carnea × Pec. hawkesiana was registered in 2011 as Pectabenaria Little Angel. When this was made, it used the typical pink Hab. carnea and the progeny were light pink. Then in 2019, the cross was remade using Hab. carnea f. nivosa, the white form of Hab. carnea. Although there may have been a few plants that turned out to have extremely light pink flowers, most of the progeny had bright white flowers. The natural spread of the flower is about 1.5 inches (3.8 cm). The flowers last a long time on the inflorescence.

Pectabenaria Oberon, named for the legendary fairy king, is a hybrid of Pec. hawkesiana × Pec. Wow’s White Fairies registered in 2018. The natural spread of the flower is approximately 1.5 inches (3.8 cm). When the flower first opens, the lateral sepals are light green, then change to almost white over a few days.

Pectabenaria Snow Bird (Hab. lindleyana × Pec. hawkesiana) was registered in 2018. The white flowers are usually crowded on the inflorescence, like the Pecteilis parent, although a few are spread out and have a more pleasing appearance. A few clones have a little yellow at the base of the lip. None had a pure yellow lip like Pec. hawskiana does. It does pass the wide, flat, barely reflexed sepals to its progeny.

In 2022 Pec. Snow Bird × Hab. medusa was registered as Pectabenaria Ptarmigan. The side lobes of the lips of the progeny were extremely variable, some with barely a fringe and others with a full fringe; however all the flowers were white, like a Ptarmigan in winter

Because there was an Oberon, he should have his queen; therefore, the hybrid Pectabenaria (Snow Bird × Wow’s White Fairies) was registered in 2022 as Pectabenaria Titania, the fairy queen as first described in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The white flowers are fairly flat with a pinking-like fringe on the side lobes of the lip. The natural spread of the flower is about 1.5 inches (3.8 cm).

[13] Pectabenaria Titania (Snow Bird × Wow’s White Fairies)
[14] Pectabenaria White Jade (Habenaria carnea f. nivosa × Perseus)
[15] Pectabenaria Hippocampe (Perseus × Habenaria crinifera). Photograph by Nicholas Rust.
[16] Pectabenaria Kat Hawk (Habenaria Kat’s Whiskers × Pecteilis hawkesiana)
[17] Pectabenaria Snowy Egret (Perseus × Wow’s White Fairies)
[18] Pectabenaria Angelitas (Pecteilis hawksiana × Habenaria crinifera)
[19] Pectabenaria Oberon (Pecteilis hawkesiana × Wow’s White Fairies)
[20] Pectabenaria Snow Bird (Habenaria lindleyana × Pecteilis hawkesiana)

Another Pec. Snow Bird hybrid is Pectabenaria Pyewacket, a hybrid with Pec. Perseus and registered in 2022. The side lobes of the lip are quite variable in this hybrid too, varying from just about no fringing to a slight pinking. The natural spread of the flower is, like many of the others, about 1.5 inches (3.8 cm).

Pectabenaria Perseus has produced some nice hybrids and another one is the hybrid with Hab. carnea f. nivosa. This hybrid was registered in 2022 as Pectabenaria White Jade. Pectabenaria Perseus does add a slight fringing to the lip and may reduce the side lobes to adnate extensions of the midlobe.

Then there is Pectabenaria Hippocampe. If you see a habenaria hybrid with a name that is a brain structure, the hybrid was probably made or named by Nicolas Rust. In this case, it was made and named by him. It is a hybrid of Pec. Perseus × Hab. crinifera, registered in 2022. Habinaria crinifera is fairly dominant in its crosses and radically changes the shape of the Pectabenaria parent.

[21] Pectabenaria Pyewacket also produced plants with variable lip fringing. The inset photograph is a clone that exhibits no fringing

What do you get when you cross Hab. Kat’s Whiskers with Pec. hawkesiana? You get Pectabenaria Kat Hawk, registered in 2022. Like Hab. lindleyana, which drastically reduced the side lobes of Hab. medusa in Hab. Kat’s Whiskers, Pec. hawkesiana further reduced the side lobes, so there is barely any fringe. Too bad! It has widespread white sepals, and some clones have a little yellow on the lip. The natural spread of the flower is approximately 1.5 inches (3.8 cm).

The first white habenaria cross to be registered in 2023 was one Pec. (Perseus × Wow’s White Fairies). It was registered on January 10 as Pectabenaria Snowy Egret. I had hoped that the bud would open on New Year’s Day, but as the 1969 Rolling Stones song states, “You can’t always get what you want.” Regardless, the cross has given me lots of satisfaction. The nearly 2- inch (5.1 cm) white flowers are fairly flat, and the lip is heavily fringed. It was what I was aiming for. When the plant matures, I expect it to have a lot of showy flowers on a tall inflorescence.

Another new hybrid is Pectabenaria Angelitas, a hybrid of Pec. hawkesiana × Hab. crinifera. The white flowers have a natural spread of about 1.5 inches (3.8 cm), and a much shorter inflorescence than the Hab. crinifera parent. Once again, Hab. crinifera has modified the lip shape of Pec. hawkesiana.

Although there are myriad crosses involving habenarias, there is at present still only one pure Pecteilis hybrid, Pecteilis Kiat Tan. It was made at the Singapore Botanic Garden by crossing Pec. susannae and Pec. hawkesiana. The cross was named for their then-director and founder of Gardens by the Bay in Singapore, Kiat Tan, and registered in 2004. If you have not seen the garden in person, or in pictures, it is an amazing place (there are images of it on Google images). Most of the fringe of Pec. susannae has been reduced to pinking, but it is a beautiful white flower and over 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) in natural spread. It deserves to be seen more frequently.

These white habenaria hybrids have been registered with the Royal Horticultural Society and there are a few more out there, and there will likely be many more in the future. Although the colored ones are most common, very pretty, and definitely worth growing, there is an certain elegance and enchantment to the white ones that should give them a place to brighten up your collection.

— Leon Glicenstein is an international lecturer who speaks to orchid and plant societies. He has grown orchids for more than 59 years and was a breeder of novel orchid hybrids for the former Hoosier Orchid Company, especially in the Gongorinae, Zygopetalinae, Pleurothallidinae, angracoids, jewel and painted-leaf orchids (email glicenstein33@msn.com).

 May 2023
May 2023
The May 2023 issue contains articles from “LET THERE BE WHITE!” to “MALE CATASETINAE FLOWERS" and more.

Also in this issue

  • Tom's Monthly Checklist by Thomas Mirenda
  • Collector's Item - Bulbophyllum bicolor by Judith Rapacz-Hasler
  • Orchids Illustrated - Cycnoches by Wesley Higgins and Peggy Alrich
  • Conservation Update: Is Sustainable Orchid Harvest Possible? - By Tamara Ticktin and Jacob Phelps
  • Let There be White! A selection of white habenaria hybrids by Leon Glicenstein
  • Induction of Male Catasetum Flowers by David Nickerson
  • A Nod to Dendrobiums, Part 2. Overview of Selected Awarded Plants By Andrew Coghill-Behrends
  • Lindleyana - New records of Lepanthes Sw. from Ecuador, Pt. 2 by Alfonso Doucette, Hugo Medina, and José Portilla