Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sunday, February 21, 2010

More Watering Days, and Other Things Bean Likes About Phragmipediums

Selena Sabine ("Bean") looks confident she can take care of this Phrag. Eumelia Ariaz.  It's a cross between two species of Phragmipedium (kovachii x schlimii).  This cross was originally registered by Peruflora, but no one has seen the offspring from these particular parents cultivated by Hilltop Orchids. We predict a gorgeous pink color, but a lot rides on how well Bean is going to take care of it.  Go Bean, go! 

The discovery of  Phrag. kovachii in 2002 was a big event in the orchid world because the large size and deep purple of the flower opened up unforeseen breeding opportunities.  As Orchids magazine recently documented in their three-part series "New World Slipper Orchids," fresh hybrid combos involving  kovachii and besseae have created large-flower red, magenta, and purple slipper orchids that were unthinkable 10-15 years ago.  Also, the alarming circumstances of the kovachii discovery -- replete with federal agents, lawsuits, and destroyed careers -- gives the plant a notorious aura. 

I bought this one at the 2010 Kansas City Orchid Show from Hilltop Orchids run by Dick and Sandy Wells.  Sandy discussed the trouble she and other orchid breeders encountered with the first batch of kovachii that legally entered the commercial breeding pool.  "They died," she said flatly.  Hybridizers across the country had similar problems.  The light and humidity were ideal, so what was going on?  Like others trying to grow kovachii in the mid-2000s, Dick and Sandy trekked to Peru to see how the much-coveted orchid grew in the wild.  They discovered that the plants grew on steep limestone cliffs and the roots were exposed to a heck of a lot of limestone, and that jacked up the pH of the water and made it rich in specific minerals.

So, what does this mean for the casual orchid hobbyist like Selena Sabine?  Bottom line: she needs to top dress the plant with dolomite every four months.  Once a month, she should water the Phrag. Eumelia Ariaz with diluted Epsom salt (two tablespoons per gallon).  The roots should never go dry, which means more watering days for Sabine to enjoy.

Someday, it might be as impressive as the Phrag. Fritz Schomburg (kovachii x besseae var flavum) I saw at the Kansas City Orchid Show (below).  Right now, Bean and I are just making sure it survives in its new home.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Frog Friday! The Cricket Edition

Trixie has generously agreed to share her insights into the difficult task of maintaining the crickets:

Feeding and Care of the Frog Food 
by Trixie, February 2010 
When crickets arrive at the store, they are basically dry, hungry husks.  They need to be fattened up (aka “gut fed”) before they are fed to the frogs.  The frogs get all their nutrition from the baby cricks, so we need to make sure their bellies are full of fresh fruits and vegetables, and sometimes a little calcium powder on top, before they are fed to the frogs.

Healthy frogs are fat and round.  Our frogs are healthy, and growing plumper by the day.  Bob is our roundest frog, recently looking like he swallowed a half dollar.  Carol is the second fattest; a big, healthy gal.  Alice and Ted both appear the same size they were when they moved into our frog commune, months ago.  Horst is our tiniest frog, but he often grabs four crickets at one feeding.   Our other kids are typically satisfied with one or two baby crickets a day.  So, if you do the math, that’s about a dozen crickets a day.   Eighty-some a week.  

We started our adventure, we had Bob and Carol.  Their food needs were minimal. We bought our cricks two dozen at a time, in a little bag with some pieces of egg crate to keep them from stepping on each other and crushing their little dry bodies.   We kept them in a cute little cage.   We fed them carrots.  It was a simple time.  

Soon, we added Ted and Alice to our family.  But double the frogs equal double the crickets.   Suddenly, our cricket needs were in the dozens every week.  There were multiple learning moments while transferring the crickets from the bag to the boxes. The kitties loved the sudden opportunities for hunting, stalking, and pouncing on the escapees.   The lazy ones spent their short lives munching on carrots, safely nestled in a few pieces of egg crate.
But then, we added a fifth frog: Horst.  Horst is a very hungry hopper, often feasting on four cricks per feeding.  Suddenly, buying crickets by the dozen became impractical.  The wonderful employees at Pet World suggested that buying crickets by the thousand would be a cheaper and make for fewer trips to the pet store. 

Before we brought the box-o-thousand-crickets home, we created a bigger home.  My new research shows that our frogs require a more varied diet than just carrots, so I bought kale, potatoes, apples and carrots for the feeders.  I prepared a huge plastic bin with everything 1000 crickets could ever want.  I layered egg crates, empty toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, and cardboard scraps, ensuring that the cricks would have a safe and happy place to await their execution.  

Picking up 1000 crickets made me realize….that is a lot of crickets!  In a very tiny box.   I brought the box home, opened it, and promptly let loose a small army of crickets upon our office.  The carpet pulsed with crickety life.  After some serious attempts at capturing the runners, I left it to the cats to clean up my mess.  I need to develop a better system of transferring the load of crickets into the cage. 
The 950 some crickets that made the transfer without incident were undoubtedly delighted with the bounty I laid out for them.  They were gutted overnight, and the next day, the frogs were treated to the healthiest food this side of nature.  

Most mornings, we open the lid on the big bin of cricks, pull up a piece of egg crating that is full of live ones, and funnel them into a large beer glass.  They ate their last supper, and their lives end shortly after being unceremoniously dumped into the frog homestead.  
  Many are picked off immediately, courtesy of Horst.   Some head for the top of the bark, and get a brief reprieve.  But the five frogs can climb, and no cricket lives for long in the commune.  25 days later, the cycle starts again, with a new box of crickets.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Visit to a Turkmenistan Greenhouse

Reposted with permission from All Things Amazing, the adski_kafeteri community on Live Journal. 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Brassavola Award History, 1969-2008 -- a report by Selena Sabine

The house faces several serious issues: chronic treat shortages, lack of Vanilla-flavored leftovers, and -- of course -- Riley.  Despite this, I have been asked to prepare a report on the award history of Brassavolas. Frankly, it doesn't seem like the best use of my time. But, because our B. Little Stars is one of my household favorites, I've decided to postpone my nap to work on the report.  Here's what I've come up with:

Brassavola Award History, 1969-2008 
by Selena Sabine, February 2010

Brassavolas have won 135 AOS awards from 1969 to 2008.  Of these, 60 (44%) are awards for cultural merit (CCM -- Certificate of Cultural Merit and CCE -- Certificate of Cultural Excellence).  These awards recognize a well-developed plant culture, including the vegetative parts.  Brassavola that won cultural awards had a substantially higher flower count (an average of 219.7 flowers per plant) compared to FCC, AM, and HCC awards (which had an average of 66.8 flowers per plant).  Cultural awards also garnered, on average, more points per award (85.3 for CCM/CCE and 80.5 for FCC/AM/HCC awards.

FCC, AM, and HCC awards center on flower quality.  If racking up multiple FCC awards is your number one orchid priority, Brassavolas will probably offer disappointment.  Only two plants have attained such glory.  In 1973, R.F. Fuchs' B. nodosa 'Susan Fuchs' FCC/AOS was awarded 91 points.  The plant only had four flowers, but they were "exceptionally large," "brilliant," and had "excellent substance."  In 2006, Steve and Rachel Adams of Abingdon Maryland won an FCC award for their B. glauca (FCC/AOS 'Rivers End').

But if you're going to grow award winning Brassavolas, you might consider B. nodosa, especially considering they account for almost 30% of Brassavola species awards.  B. glauca is a distant second (with 20% of all Brassavola species awards).  

The big years for Brassavolas include 1989, 1993, and 2006.  In 1989, seven Brassavola species plants were recognized in AOS judging (three of them were B. nodosa).  Eleven AOS awards were granted to Brassavolas in 1993 and 1994.  This slight increase could be due to two award-winning B. tuberculata and cultural awards given to two Aristocrat hybrids.  The biggest Brassavola year was 2006.  B. acaulis were two of the eight B. plants recognized by the AOS that year.

Recently, two complex Brassavola hybrids have caught the attention of judges: Fairy Queen in 2006 and Memoria Coach Blackmore in 2003.

Among the four primary Brassavola hybrids that have won awards, Little Stars and Aristocrat stand out with eight and six AOS prizes respectively.  The late 1970s might have been the era of Jimminey Cricket, but that hybrid (B. digbyana x B. nodosa) hasn't won anything since 1981.  Of the intrageneric Brassavola hybrids, it's really been the Little Stars show since 1995.  The first Little Stars award winner -- B. Little Stars 'Christine Parrish' CCM/AOS (88 points) was submitted by Motes Orchids in Boynton Beach Florida.  It had 474 flowers and 68 buds on 83 spikes.  The flower quality was "average" according to the judges' description, but the plant had "an almost perfect hemisphere of foliage and blooms."

To keep it straight, I've created some helpful tables:
Brassavola Species Plants That Have Won AOS awards, 1969-2008

Number of awards
Date Range
Brassavola acaulis
Brassavola ceboletta
Brassavola cordata (syn. subulifolia)
Brassavola cucullata
Brassavola digbyana
Brassavola flagellaris
Brassavola glauca
Brassavola nodosa
Brassavola nodosa var. grandiflora
Brassavola perrinii
Brassavola rhopalorchachis
Brassavola tuberculata
Brassavola venosa

Brassavola-exclusive crosses that have won AOS awards

Number of awards
Date Range
Little Stars
(nodosa x cordata)
(glauca x digbyana)
David Sander
(cucullata x digbyana)
Jimminey Cricket
(digbyana x nodosa)
Fairy Queen
(Jimminey Cricket x Brassavola glauca)
Memoria Coach Blackmore
(digbyana x Aristocrat)

Well, that's my report.  I'm now being peppered with questions like: What kind of heredity influence can we expect from different Brassavola species when we cross them with Cattleyas?  How long have people been growing Brassavola nodosa?  Why does it smell so good?  What are the pollinators of Brassavola?  (I think it's moths . . . mmmm . . . tasty moths . . .).  Who first discovered Brassavola species?  Who is it named after?  How do you grow them?  Can you mount them on bark?

You see where this is going . . . yes, another report.  I need to look for treats.  Maybe vanilla.  Maybe a nap?  Attack Riley?  Rip at the scratching post?

These are all tempting ideas, but first I'm going to say good morning to our Brassavola.  It hasn't won any awards, but it's definitely got our attention. 

Friday, February 12, 2010


This video was a collaborative effort to highlight Griffin's addiction to treats.  It also features -- for a brief few moments -- my first orchid.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bean Bumping the Brassavola

As everyone in the Cats and Catts community knows, Bean's favorite day is watering day.  Although I don't have a pre-established watering day, whenever it is, Bean will be there.  She has a certain fondness for the Brassavola Little Stars 'Yasuji Takasaki' (B. cordata x B. nodosa) I purchased from Birds Botanicals in the first week of December.  Sabine especially likes to bump into it repeatedly (see above).  

We're fans of the Brassavola, too.  Although most of the flowers are entering their endgame, for several weeks the perfume filled the room after dark.  Sometimes, I would walk past the room and get hit in the face with the lovely scent.  I love this plant!

So, during of our discussion of Brassavolas I asked Sabine about their award history.  She has catnip toys to play with, vanilla to scout for, and a nap scheduled -- but I've tasked her with this important duty and I expect a report in a couple of days.  

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Rare Moment

With her best friend Riley in the background, Griffin agreed to pose with the Paph. hainanense I purchased from Oak Hills Gardens, now in bloomIt's come a long way since November when it was last seen with Lan Lan.  Trixie sent this photo to me when I was out of town.  It came with the message "Griffin ... a rare good moment."  How true.  I was surprised she didn't ask the flower for treats or try to pollinate it with her claw.  Maybe the house is safe for slipper orchids?  Here's a closeup (photo by Trixie):

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Vanilla Bean (part 1)

Here, Selena Sabine enjoys the leftovers of a vanilla shake.  Despite a houseful of Catts, Vanilla is arguably the most popular orchid species in the house.  It mostly comes our way in the form of ice cream.  I'm slowly working through Patricia Rain's Vanilla and, for me and the kitties, the most exciting part is the mass production of ice cream in the early 20th century (134-136).  Artificial pollination techniques (increasing the availability of vanilla) combined with innovations in refrigeration to create a delicious taste sensation.  Because this history is dear to her, Bean created a helpful time line:

1851 -- Jacob Fussell opens the first commercial ice cream plant (in Baltimore, Maryland).

1873 -- Creation of the first ice cream soda

1904 -- Ice cream cone first introduced (supposedly) at St. Louis Exposition and World's Fair 

1909 -- U.S. ice cream sales reach 30 million gallons a year.

1919 -- The Eskimo Pie is introduced 

1924 -- The Good Humor bar is introduced

1926 -- Improvements in motorized freezer technology allow ice cream to be packaged and sold in grocery stores

1930 -- The discovery of dry ice helps create a national market for ice cream

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Who is Bob Betts?

This photo of Bob Betts was taken at the 1953 Culver City "La Ballona Valley Days" festival about a week before his 27th birthday.  Bob Betts (1926-1984) was born in Los Angeles California to Dorothy and Warren Betts.  Warren managed a lumber company.

Bob Betts was an orchid grower for Clint McDade, the owner of Rivermont Orchids.  McDade's fame in the orchid world primarily came from his white Cattleya hybrids, particularly crosses of Cattleya Bow Bells.  According to Chadwick and Chadwick's The Classic Cattleyas (2006, Timber Press, pgs. 164-168), the most important C. Bow Bells cross was C. Bob Betts (C. Bow Bells x C. mossiae var. wagneri).  C. Bob Betts, registered by McDade in 1950, was the first Bow Bells cross to flower in the United States.  According to Chadwick and Chadwick (pg. 167), C. Bob Betts "became the most awarded white cattleya in the history of the [American Orchid] Society's judging with over 66 quality awards."  The Chadwicks explain that, despite tremendous effort to improve white cattleyas, the standard set by C. Bow Bells and C. Bob Betts has rarely been surpassed.  
The booming market for corsages between 1930-1960 generated a lot of interest in our beloved cattleyas.  Sandwiched in time between Knudson's seed growing technique (1922) and the development of meristem cloning (1964), the creation of white hybrids like C. Bob Betts mark an exciting moment in cattleya history. Hybridizers have also used C. Bow Bells to create scrumptiously colorful catts.  You can buy a piece of orchid history at a reasonable price from Orchids by Hausermann (but it looks as if it's going to take up much more space on your growing table than your average grocery store catt).  Sadly, I didn't find much information about Bob Betts, but the flower after which he is named stands as an undeniable image of beauty.   

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Integrationists and Segregationists

An advantage, I thought, of growing orchids indoors was that the cats were indifferent.  Keeping gardenias proved difficult because the cats (well, Griffin, primarily) would eat the leaves and flowers.  The cats seemed to ignore the orchids altogether.  Bean gets excited on watering day.  Sometimes Griffin will jump on the window sill and knock one over.  But, more or less, they leave them alone.

Then I heard a story.  Gaby told me that her cat once ate a Paphiopedilum bloom that was getting ready to open.  Snap.  Just like that.  The cat probably thought it was some kind of treat, or it was simply being vindictive.

Anyway, ever since I heard that tale, I took my Paph. -- which now has a nice bloom that's getting ready to unfold -- and put it in a secure position inside the shelf next to the orchid table.  Lan Lan doesn't seem to mind that her orchid is in a new location, and she has a (surprisingly healthy!) Phal. to look after upstairs.

Out on the World Wide Web, opinions vary widely on the question of separating cats and orchids.  Edin, an orchid grower from Arizona, takes a decidedly segregationist approach, only bringing cut flowers into the house.  Penelope, an orchid hobbyist from Wisconsin, bans her cats from the growing area and uses a chew deterrent spray (bitter apple).  Others have adopted more extreme measures to keep the felines away.

I like CJ Watkins' integrationist approach.  Watkins grows kitty grass and keeps it by his orchids so the cats have an alternative.  We have a similar arrangement with cat nip growing on the bookshelf next to the orchid table.  I think cat grass might be a better choice or, at least, a good addition to the current set-up.  Or should I adopt more aggressive measures now?  A lot of it, of course, depends on Griffin.