Wednesday, December 30, 2009

DC Belle

Monday, December 28, 2009

Samurai Kitty!

Sabine sniffs the air root of a Neofinetia falcata, the “Samurai orchid” or “Japanese wind orchid” from China, Korea, Japan and the Ryukyu Islands. I pronounced Neofinetia in all sorts of interesting ways until I learned its proper pronunciation from Frowine’s Miniature Orchids (Neo-fin-AY-tee-ah). The plant will be much more intriguing in six months, but it’s smart of Bean to check out all of the new ones I bring into the house. The flowers will show off a graceful white spur that curves away from three-lobed lip. This might contribute to the “samurai” name, but Samurai warriors grew the orchid and it stood as a sign of their wealth and respectability. It was difficult to find, so Samurai would demonstrate their bravery and toughness by bringing the plant back to the Japanese royal court.

Linda Fortner (aka “The Orchid Lady”) has a wonderfully informative article about the Neofinetia falcata, including a lot of fascinating material about the naming and classification of the species. This essay also provides a lot of valuable information about its history and care. The plant was first identified in 1728 and first classified into the Western orchid world in 1784. Botanists classified it in a series of different genera over the years, including as an Aerides and an Angracecum, before giving it the generic name Neofinetia (named after 19th century French botanist Achille Finet). Until 1996, falcata was the lone species attached to the genus. E.A. Christenson successfully lobbied for a second Neofinetia species by naming N. richardsiana. Richardsiana is different from falcate because it has a much shorter spur – more of a Samurai dagger than a sword.

Rebecca Tyson Northern’s book Miniature Orchids notes that it’s “a miniature version of a strap-leaf vanda” that’s “deliciously fragrant in the evening.” She tells me to, “Grow on the cool side of intermediate temperatures (pg. 115).”   Frowine’s Miniature Orchids contradicts this by advising us to treat it to an intermediate-to-warm growing environment with medium light (pgs. 144-145). Like so many other orchid-related quandaries, I’m going to entrust the kitties with giving it the proper care.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

The Kitties wish you a Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Selena Sabine Visits Santa

Sabine paid her yearly visit to Santa and made a litany of requests.  Bean asked for a series of fine orchid specimens (along with the usual list of soft seafood treats).  Compared to the other kitties, Sabine spends the most amount of time in the orchid room, so it's natural that she's the kitty leading the demand for more orchids.

The first one on her list is Paph. delenatii.  Envious that Lan Lan has a slipper orchid, Bean is rallying for a few of her own.  Paph. delenatii is one of the few fragrant Paphiopedilums.  It's compact with a large and mesmerizing pink flower.  She also wants a Paph. malipoense, a dwarf Paph. with a light raspberry scent.

Bean is also craving a green Cattleya hybrid.  Perhaps a Lc. Green Veil 'Dressy' will fit the bill?  A grower writing on the OrchidBoard says that they smell like black pepper.  She's not sure if that's a good thing or not.  Blc. Greenwich 'Elmhurst' AM/AOS stands out as especially attractive this holiday season.  Bean spent a little time on AQ+ slowly scrolling through the ten amazing award-winners from Blc. Greenwich (Lc. Ann Follis x Blc. Lester McDonald).  'Elmurst' boasts of 5-6" apple-green petals, a splash of magenta on the lip, and a strong perfume.  In May 1976, Orchids by Hausermann won 84 points for 'Elmhurst' during the Florida North Central Monthly Judging.  The judges' description noted the "butter yellow" deep in the throat.  Hausermann is selling Blc. Greenwich 'Elmhurst' AM/AOS in three different pot sizes at very reasonable prices.  But Bean cautions me that Santa should probably wait until the March warm-up before acting as a fly-by-night courier for such delicate beauties.  After all, reindeer don't have heat packs


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Meeting Matilda

Do you recall the photo of the Hindenburg blimp moments before it burst into flames?  That's what this picture brings to mind.  Here, Matlida paid a visit to the kitties (Lan Lan had the good sense to stay away).  More accurately, the kitties visited Matilda, who had emerged from under the bed to find Bean gorging on her wet food.  Griffin and Matilda faced off, and Riley rushed up just to cause more trouble.  Cue satanic growling noises from The Exorcist.  I set my camera down when the scene turned more chaotic and, after Griffin took a few swipes at our guest, I put a stop to it.

Matilda is a boy kitty with a female name and Griffin is a girl kitty with a male name.  You would think that they have a lot to talk about.  So, why did Griffin react violently to Matilda?  I patiently explained to Griffin that Matilda was only staying for one or two nights, but it didn't seem to make a difference.  It could have been a selfless gesture from Griffin, defending the home against strange intruders.  When a possum, dog, or other cat lurks outside Griffin is almost always the first on the scene, tail puffy, ears back, and ready to attack whatever animal threatens to penetrate the window screen.  On the other hand, her first thought might have been "more cats means fewer treats!"
Griffin is also a little bit of a camera hog.  She probably knew that I was going to photograph Matilda, and therefore Griffin's jealousy may have been another factor contributing to the tense atmosphere.  Regardless, with Bean, Riley, and Griffin banished from the room, I took advantage of the brief period of calm to capture Matilda posing with our Pot. Jared's Jewel (Pot. Afternoon Delight 'Magnetism' x Slc. Jewel Box 'Scheherazade' AM/AOS) from Oak Hills Gardens.    

Friday, December 18, 2009

I See Aphids

Bean looks over the blooms of this Sharry Baby, thinking that they might be treats. She discovers nasty aphids.

Sure enough, I spotted the pests on adjacent soft-leafed plants. I pulled them off the table and wiped their leaves with warm water and diluted rubbing alcohol. Bean helped, and together we got most of them killed.

The Sharry Baby required more extreme measures, so I consulted my home library.

The otherwise rich and informative The Best Orchids for Indoors, published by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, lives in a blissful world where insects pose no threat. Batchelor's Your First Orchid, published by the AOS, seems to cover all of the insects except aphids. Banks' Orchid Grower's Companion encourages me to consider insecticides only as a last resort and to "take a shower afterward" (pg. 73) as if I'm Karen Silkwood.
Frowine's Orchids for Dummies informs me that aphids are carriers of viruses and diseases, which only ratchets up my growing neurosis. He recommends two lines of defense: warm water and then, if necessary,insecticidal soap, horticultural oil, orange oil, and/or isopropyl alcohol. Finally, Orchid Growing Illustrated by the Rittershausens sends me into a tailspin of paranoia with twenty pages of vivid illustrations of orchid pests and disorders, giving me whole new categories of things to worry about. Pseudomonas cattleyae? Fusarioum oxysporum? And here's a giant picture of a wood louse. Feel better now?

Although each individual book suggested soft initial steps, collectively they led me to attack the problem with extreme prejudice. Break out the Agent Orange! Or "orange oil." Whatever. Ultimately, I wanted an insecticide that accurately captured my emotions upon seeing the bugs. I couldn't find "Frustration." I was also unable to locate "Disgust." So, I settled on "Concern."

I sprayed down the plant in the shower, let it sit overnight, and then washed it down the next day. I waited a week before reintegrating it with the others. Next time, I might apply a softer touch, but the aggressive approach appeared to have worked. I'm prepared for the next outbreak, unless it's giant wood lice.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Three Cat Night

Recently, I was reading about Rhizanthella slateri, an Eastern Australian orchid that grows entirely underground. Only 90 specimens have been found, and in only ten locations. Peter Bernhardt devotes a chapter to the plant in his 1989 book Wily Violets and Underground Orchids.  The Australian government also offers fascinating information about the orchid, including a map of the tiny area of the continent wherein it’s found. It was first discovered in June 1928 by John Trott, a farmer who was burning eucalyptus bushes. He discovered flowers underneath the burnt earth, and he then took them to a prominent botanist.  The plants live off fungus. Bernhardt speculated that the flowers are designed to attract flies, which are normally drawn to mushrooms that are just below the surface.  

In any event, what does this have to do with the kitties? Well, just as the Rhizanthella slateri blooms in the winter, the cats like to sleep on the bed with Temperance and Trixie during the cold nights. All of them, except Bean, crowd the bed. Griffin, however, is the only underground kitty of the crew. Sometimes, her presence is an advantage because she’s like a little heater.  Purring and curled up next to my chest, Griffin lowers the risk of nighttime hypothermia.  Other times, she decides she wants to leave the bed at two in the morning and claws her way out. Then, a few minutes later, she will want back in . . . and then, ten minutes later, after I've fallen back asleep, she will scratch and make a fuss and exit the blankets once again.

Back to the orchid: The Australian government classifies Rhizanthella slateri as "Endangered" under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.  New South Wales lists it as a "Threatened Species."  Conservationists might reject this notion, but Griffin's pestering makes me wonder: is Rhizanthella slateri endangered for evolutionarily sound reasons?  Perhaps orchid flowers, like cats, don’t belong underground.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Back to School

A couple of weeks ago I took a three-hour orchid class at Birds BontanicalsDave Bird led a wonderful learning experience oriented toward the window sill hobbyist.  The class was especially helpful because he addressed conditions specific to the seasons shifts in north-east Kansas.  He discussed the general growing and blooming requirements of five popular genera and showed off some of the finer ones in bloom, including Blc. Orange Nugget (above). I couldn't stop staring at it.  When he found out about my catt addiction, gave me specific tips about my catt culture (catts like clay pots, catts are heavier feeders than I thought, I should keep my small fan on for longer periods of time to improved air circulation in my growing space, and -- my consistent worry -- let there be more light!).

At the end, we learned how to pot a phalaenopsis.  We took our plants home, but Dave observed that we will truly pass the class only when we can get them to bloom.  The class was conducted with a lot of good humor, and I think the best advice concerned WalMart phalaenopsis packaged with the infamous recommendation to water the plant with three ice cubes per week.  With a flash of fierce dry humor, Dave said that we might as well use thirty ice cubes, since that will kill it quicker. 

The next class is January 14th.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Cat and Wildcat

Riley eyes a bloom from this Colmanara Wildcat ‘Green Valley.’ This particular hybrid is a cross between Odontonia Rustic Bridge x Odontocidium Crowborough. Riley thinks that this particular spray is on its last legs, and he’s probably right. This is supposed to be a frequently blooming variety so, as long as Riley is on good behavior, we should be okay. But you never know with Riley.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"Why Won't Our Spider Plant Grow?"

For months we wonder why our spider plant wasn't thriving.  Other plants grew while our spider plant cutting flailed.  It never got off the ground despite regular water and plenty of light.
What could possibly be wrong?  Teeth marks on the leaves pointed to at least one of four possible troublemakers.  Then, I witnessed Griffin barf up suspicious looking plant matter, but I it didn't explain the wholesale misery of our particular specimen.  Then I saw it.  Griffin was sitting on the spider plant.  Moreover, she seemed to have no awareness that she was doing anything wrong.  It must have seemed like a perfect place to watch squirrels and -- you have to admit -- she looks extremely content.  Recognizing our uphill battle, I moved the plant from the clay pot to a hanging plastic pot.  It's thriving now that Griffin is unable to sit on it.

We were interested in spider plants (chlorophytum comosum) after learning about their ability to absorb air pollutants.  I didn't think they were going to be a problem because some say that these plants are "the easiest to grow of all the hanging or trailing plants" and are "among the easiest houseplants to propagate."  No one, however, considered the Griffin factor.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Double Trouble

Riley watches Griffin inspect the Dendrobium. Riley and Griffin are good friends, but their fraternizing often leads to rough and tumble antics. Griffin will walk up to Riley for some grooming and – five minutes later – the sweet scene of one cat lapping the forehead of another devolves into claws, tackles, and furry chaos. It looks like Riley had a perfect position to paw at Griffin, but he was on surprisingly good behavior. The blooms are from a Den. ‘Thames Blue.’ I don’t know much more about it except that it came to me with severely wrinkled pseudobulbs. I gradually increased the water.  It's been in bloom for a long time.  After it's finished, I'll give it a rest and ease up on the water.  I’m glad Riley and Griffin don’t have to rest for the winter – it would be a lot less fun.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Fresh Water Kitty

Ever since she was a small kitten, Lan Lan has appreciated the fresh water that flows from a slow faucet.  Even with a full dish of water, LL will rush toward the faucet and demand that someone turn it on.  It can't be a faint drip, but it can't be turned too high, either.  And she prefers the coldest available from the tap.  This adorable little habit has been easy enough to indulge.  Its cost in terms of water is low, except for the approximately 6,800 times Lan Lan forgot to turn off the faucet after she finished her drink.

Here, she's posing next to a myoxanthus octomorioides, a pleurothallis-type miniature I picked up from Clackamas Orchids.  No one bid on it during the eBay auction and, at only four dollars, it looked too cute to pass up.  Plants of the Myoxanthus genus are found in Central and South America. Botanist have identified about fifty Myoxanthus species.  Myoxanthus means "dormouse flower" in Greek.  I couldn't find much information about this species, but I stumbled upon some important cultural information for the genus at the blog About Orchids.  I especially appreciated the pronunciation tip (Myoxanthus rhymes with "Go try Kansas.")

Okay.  I think Lan Lan is done.  Time to turn off the water.  Oh look!  A pretty orchid . . .

Friday, December 4, 2009

Frog Friday!

Above the fog, pushing her way past the Bulbophyllum, Alice contemplates jumping into the ultrasoinc mister. We have it set to bathe the frogs and the orchids at regular intervals for about four hours a day total. Almost all of the frogs have climbed up on the ledge and dropped into the foggy pool while the ultrasonic mister is on. It seems like the thing to do. The frogs and most of the orchids love it, but the one featured here is getting too much of a good thing. You can see rot begin to form on the bottom right root. It’s simply getting too much water in this location.

So, we moved it to a higher and drier place on the frog wall. The baby in question is a Barkeria whartoniana about two years from flowering. Barkeria whartoniana is very rare in the wild and is only found in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Oaxaca Mexico. I bought mine from Clackamas Orchids. It grows on rocks in dry and hot conditions, so its initial placement on the frog wall invited all sorts of problems.  Barkerias also need to dry out during the winter.  I've mounted it on the other side of the orchid wall, away from the fogger, and it has recovered nicely.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Who Was Sidney J. Bracey?

Can Lan Lan wait a few more years until this blooms? Or will she demand I get a blooming-size one next Spring? She’s staring at a Lc. S.J. Bracey ‘Waiolani.’ The pictures of the full-sized plants look gorgeous, but who the heck is S.J. Bracey?

Typing “Sidney Bracey” and “orchids” into Google immediately leads me to references to an actor named Sidney Bracey who played an uncredited role in Edward G. Robinson’s “Brother Orchid” (a wonderful movie, by the way). Searches for B.O. Bracey were equally frustrating. To the library!

With a little research, I discovered that Sidney J. Bracey was born in England in 1899. He came to the United States with his brother Benjamin O. Bracey in the early 1920’s. Both were listed in the census as florists in the greenhouse industry. By 1930, Sidney was married to a woman named Louise and they had a three year-old daughter named Vanda.

A 1927 Los Angeles Times article described how Ben Bracey went to see Walter Armacost, a horticulturalist from the Chicago area. Bracey had, “like his father before him, been employed on a great estate in England to grow orchids.” Bracey and Armacost made a business arrangement and then brought Lewis Knudson out from the east coast so he could teach Bracey and Armacost his revolutionary techniques of growing orchids from seed on sterile agar (LAT, Jun. 19, 1927, L3). The article also discussed how Bracey and Armacost hoped to develop a “perpetual Cattleya.”  Dream on, kids.

Before World War II, Ben Bracey trained renown orchid breeders Oscar and William Kirsch, Joe Ozella, and Joe Hampton.  In 1952, he founded his own company and created the famed Lc. Bonanza -- an orchid Robert Atkinson described as "one of the greatest orchids of all time" (LAT, 17 Apr. 1966, pg. 18).

[Sidney Bracey is shown in the photo above and Ben Bracey is shown working in his lab below on the left.]

Brother Sidney was no slouch, either.  In 1937, Sidney Bracey wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times (“Confessions of an Orchid Grower” Dec. 12, L16) outlining seed propagation methods. The article features two women. Is this Louise Bracey? Or could this be Betty Bracey?

In 1952, Sidney Bracey wrote another article for the Times discussing his Lc. ‘Los Angeles,’ named in recognition of the anniversary of the founding of Los Angeles. He wrote: “its production evolves from thousands of years spent by nature perfecting yellow-toned species and the world famous natural hybrid Cattleya hardyana” (Aug. 31, F25).  I haven't found any contemporary references to the Lc. 'Los Angeles.'  What happened?

Lan Lan and I have many more questions about S.J. Bracey and his family, but anyone who names their kid Vanda can’t be half bad.