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.