Friday, April 30, 2010

Frog Friday! The Full Frog Clean

Bob stares through the wall of his temporary plastic cage and thinks about frolicking among the slipper orchids.  Once a month, I put the frogs in a temporary holding center and thoroughly clean their tank.  I wash and scrub the rocks, clean the glass, and reassemble the vivarium with fresh water.  
This is undoubtedly traumatic for the frogs, though it's a necessary part of their health and upkeep.  To make the process more humane, I've decided to place the temporary frog cage in with the orchids.  The frog have their own orchids, but the scenic distraction might be just what they need during their once-a-month room service.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Off to Oklahoma

I'm leaving today for the Oklahoma Orchid Society show.  The show is held in conjunction with the AOS Southwest Regional Orchid Grower's Association annual meeting, so it promises to be a big event.  I'm looking forward to the lecture series on Friday, and I'm especially looking forward to the talk on slipper orchids by Glen Decker.  The downside of my travels, of course, is that Riley and Lan Lan will have to wait anxiously for my return.  But I'll return with new knowledge and new plants for them to hassle.  

Monday, April 26, 2010

Bean's Taxonomy

Bean's Taxonomy 
a report by Selena Sabine

Working with Riley on a comprehensive orchid education program has proved frustrating.  He's frequently distracted by imaginary flies.  His nap schedule is ridiculous.  And Riley seems overly focused on the technical details of this project without giving enough thought to our overall learning goals and objectives.  I've decided to take a step back to sketch the orchid-education process.  Inspired by Benjamin Bloom, I've developed a four-stage taxonomy of orchid knowlege.  I call it "Bean's Taxonomy."

Some things must be said about Bean's Taxonomy before I describe its stages.  First, my taxonomy applies solely to orchid perception and evaluation.  A kitty can grow great orchids without knowing their names and, conversely, a kitty can have expansive knowledge of AOS judging criteria and yet kill every plant they try to grow.  Mastery of stage three should help one cultivate orchids, but learning how to grow and bloom orchids is a different topic requiring a different model of learning.  Lan Lan and Griffin could blog about that part of the orchid hobby -- if they weren't so lazy.

Second, this taxonomy does not address the issue of treats or the perpetual treat shortage in the Cats and Catts house.  Mastery of the different stages of orchid knowledge will, unfortunately, not increase the production and distribution of treats.  If it did, though, I would really like to put in a vote for Friskies Party Mix Beachside Crunch.

Finally, the Riley Method focuses on the middle levels of Bean's Taxonomy.  The primary level of the taxonomy is visceral and emotional, like the sight of a tasty moth fluttering right into my napping space.  The top level is beyond the ken of the Cats and Catts household, but we hope that the our project sets the stage for higher levels of orchid learning.

Aesthetic Appreciation -- The first level of Bean's Taxonomy is aesthetic appreciation.  This level of orchid knowledge is available to anyone.  The learner, upon seeing or touching an orchid has a reaction to the plant.  At this stage, it's impossible for the individual cat or human to be "wrong" about the orchid -- comments like "that's beautiful," "that's ugly," "that's frilly," and "that's sophisticated" are all equally valid.

Identification -- The cat or human operating at the identification stage can attach the correct genus and/or species name to the plant.  Advanced cats will be able to identify hybrid identities (grexes) and species variations.  The Riley Method focuses on this level as an important stage for learning more about orchids.

Substance -- I use the word "substance" in a different way from how it is commonly used among orchid-oriented people and cats (i.e. "The petals show a strong waxy substance with sparkling texture." or "I'm enjoying the substance of these crunchy Seafood Medley treats.").  By "substance," I refer to knowledge about the plant above and beyond identification.  One can have substantive knowledge of an orchid plant by comprehending its botanical and scientific aspects, as well as knowing its growing culture and breeding history.  This level of Bean's Taxonomy would encompass, for instance, knowing the true story behind the discovery of C. labiata, the award and breeding history of C. Drumbeat 'Heritage' (formerly Lc. Drumbeat 'Heritage'), and the relationship between Rhizanthella slateri and its pollinators.

AOS Standards -- The pinnacle of Bean's Taxonomy is the ability of the cat and/or person to channel their aesthetic appreciation, plant identification, and substantive knowledge about the orchid into the standards of evaluation set forth by the American Orchid Society.  At this level, the individual can recognize quality plants, exceptional cultivation, and significant advancements in orchid breeding and artistic design (see AOS Handbook on Judging and Exhibition, Part 1, 1.1.1).  The viewer can compare an orchid to its hypothetical ideal type.  For instance, at this level of understanding, Griffin would know that, "The general form of the [Cattleya] flower is toward fullness and roundness.  A circle, drawn with the base of the column as the center, should touch the tips of the petals and sepals and the margin of the lip, while the flower should fill the greater proportion of the area of the circle." (see AOS Handbook on Judging and Exhibition, Part 1, 7.1.2).  Griffin -- after she's finished begging for treats -- will use her knowledge of the plant's identification, botany, breeding history, award history, and native culture to judge its quality compared to similar plants.

This is a starting point in thinking about how to think about orchids.  Obviously, the bookish knowledge Riley and I hope to provide with our orchid self-education project and accompanying youtube videos is no substitute for hands-on education: talking to orchid growers, going to shows, and tending after your own collection.  And none of it, unfortunately, will get you any Friskies Party Mix Beachside Crunch treats . . .


Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Riley Method -- Large Flowered Cattleyas part 1

Riley and Sabine have been furiously working on a new orchid education project.  "The Riley Method," as they describe it, combines the immersion/internalization dimension of the Suzuki Method with the memory techniques of Harry Loranye.  

Bean turned her researcher's eye to Chadwick and Chadwick's The Classic Cattleyas (Timber Press, 2006) and identified the seventeen large-flowered species as a good place to start.  This video, the kitties assure me, is only an opening stage of the Riley Method, and only an initial step in learning about the large-flowered cattleyas.  According to Selena Sabine, this video represents the first level of "Bean's Taxonomy," whatever that means.  I'm sure she will follow up with a post about it soon enough.  Until then, enjoy Cats and Catts' inaugural youtube video:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Aunt Nadine, Riding in Coach

Here is Aunt Nadine posing with a Dendrobium speciosum hybrid purchased from Ontario Orchids.  Nadine is named after Trixie's great-great-aunt.  Aunt Nadine has a sister kitty named Aunt Arlene (named after the other great-great-aunt).  Aunt Arlene and Aunt Nadine sometimes take trips down the West Coast, from the tip of Washington to San Diego County and back.  Sometimes these excursions extend eastward toward Iowa or Kansas.  The kitties ride in style in a giant RV or "coach," taking in the sunlight from the panoramic front window.  But will Aunt Arlene and Aunt Nadine look after the orchid and give it the water and food it needs?  Time will only tell, but Aunt Nadine certainly looks trustworthy.

Do you have a guest kitty photo you'd like to share with the Cats and Catts community? Just email it to

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Going Once... Going Twice...

I need to avoid orchid auctions.  The rush of excitement overcomes me and I lose all sense of proportion.  My initial auction strategy was to save all of my Jacksons for the kovachii hybrid. I thought it would make a lovely companion plant for my Eumelia Ariaz.

So, what was I doing bidding for a giant white phal.?  The rational part of my brain said "you don't have room for that!" but another part said "Gor-geous!  Must crush all competing bids!"  Dionysus wins again and (above) Riley poses with the result.  It's a Dtps. Devonshire Charm x P. City Girl.  The hypnotic white flowers are striking but, as I struggled to fit it into my car after the auction, I realized that the plant should be a gift for my green-thumbed friend, a friend who loves plants but is currently orchid-less.  Sorry, Riley.

So, what happened to my plan to go all-in for the kovachii hybrid?  What happened to my quest for the amazing Phrag. Peruflora's Cirila Alca (kovachii x dalessandroi)?  Well, that was before I won the phal., the catt (Blc. Chia Lin 'Shinsu #1' AM/JOGA), and the Mexipedilum xerophyticum 'Oaxaca' CBR/AOR x Phrag. 'Windy Hill' HCC/AOS seedling.  By the time my target orchid went to the auction table I simply didn't have the resources to outbid the other Society member gunning for it.  At least it went to a great home.

With what I had left, I jumped into one last bidding war and managed to snag Paph. adductum 'Dark Cloud' x gigantifolium 'Dark Warrior,' another promising long-petaled slipper orchid from the experts at the Orchid Inn, Ltd.

Although I didn't win the orchid I intended, I couldn't believe the deals.  Next year at the Orchid Society of Greater Kansas City annual auction I'll bring a deeper bankroll and a calmer spirit.  The pretty flower will be mine!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Stop Harassing the Brassavolas!

Despite the popularity of the Brassavola species in the Cats and Catts house, they somehow bring out the worst in the kitties.  This poor behavior has continued unabated.  In this composite photo, Griffin (left) and Riley (right) attempt to harass the Brassavolas during a watering session.  It must be the grass-like character of the pseudobulbs that attracts them.

So, what can we do?  I see two obvious options.  First, we can hang the Brassavolas out-of-reach from the misbehaving felines (see below).  The second option is simply to purchase more Brassavolas from Oak Hills Gardens.  I think the kitties' behavior compels us to do both.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Frog Friday! Crickets 1, Barkerias 0

Frogs were my original concern with growing miniature orchids in the vivarium.  I was worried that one of the fat ones like Bob or Alice would crush the delicate plants.  I didn't anticipate the cricket factor.

The frogs like small crickets, but sometimes the crickets grow up too fast and/or "medium" or "large" crickets sneak in with the "smalls." As Trixie explains, the crickets live on a strict diet of fruits and vegetables, but they're not opposed to eating air roots or plant leaves if it comes to it. 

Recently, some larger crickets infiltrated the vivarium and laid waste to the Barkerias.  It was brutal.  The Bulbophyllum flavescens and the Certostylis retisquama remain untouched and healthy, which is something I need to keep in mind when I buy more orchids for the vivarium.  Stick with what's working.  

I've struggled with the Barkerias in the recent past but the crickets ultimately sealed their fate.  Some orchid scientists, like Dr. Robert Marsh, think Barkerias will be the next big thing.  They might be.  The genus has a number of attractive features, but keep the crickets away!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Post-Apocalyptic Orchids

Scott Stewart's presentation at the Mid-America Orchid Congress last March urged the audience to "find their way into orchid conservation."  Dr. Stewart is an accomplished scientist committed to a multidimensional approach to orchid conservation.  His research on restoring Florida's endangered terrestrial orchid population was featured on All Things Considered.  He's also a ninja-like public speaker who kept his poise through three (three!) audience cellphones interruptions during his talk.  Stewart conveyed deep knowledge and infectious enthusiasm about a number of conservation projects: 
  • DNA bar-coding technology that will allow field botanists to snip off slices of plants and put them into a gadget for precise identification
  • Aerial orchid habitat assessment using unmanned aerial vehicles
  • GPS tagging to see how things like controlled burns affect orchid habitats
  • Synthetic seed technology that allows orchid seeds to be encapsulated in tiny gel balls that have an ideal mycological mix
None of these technological advancements, he emphasized, were magical answers to ecological problems.  Rather, they're parts of a holistic approach to orchid conservation that considers multiple species, the habitats of the plants' pollinators, and the fungus situation that the seeds need in order to germinate.

The conservation approach that really perked me up was Stewart's description of crypto-preservation, which entails nitrogen deep freeze technology to hold permanently the plant matter and seeds until the end of time.  Stewart said "if the nuclear apocalypse happens" cryptopreservation will allow us to repopulate the world with orchids.  As a member of The Day After generation I felt that Stewart was definitely speaking my language.  I was at the edge of my seat.

Why orchids?  Orchids play a central role in biodiversity because, as Steward explained, they are like the "apex predators" of the plant kingdom.  If we're going to bounce back from a nuclear catastrophe, we're going to need orchids.  But the orchid seeds need fungus, so we need to throw that into the deep freezer as well, along with a moth or bee, and the moth or bee food, and so on.

But let's just hope we don't get to that point.  Until then, I'm imploring the kitties to find their way into orchid conservation, and I urge the vast, worldwide Cats and Catts community to do the same.  The Orchid Conservation Coalition is a good place to start.   

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Join the Fun Next Sunday Afternoon

The Orchid Society of Greater Kansas City is hosting their annual orchid auction next Sunday, April 18th from 1:30-4:30.  This promises to be a fun way to add to your orchid collection (or start one).  Since the orchid society is a 501(c)(3) organization, buy lots of orchids and save your receipt for next April's tax filing.  There will be some orchids for sale for as low as $5 and $10.  The word on the street is that Fox Valley Orchids, Ltd. will be offering a Phrag. Peruflora's Cirila Alca for the auction.  So, if you live in the Kansas City area, you'll definitely want to mark your calendars for this event.  Next Sunday -- Broadway United Methodist Church -- 74th and Wornall. 

Friday, April 9, 2010

Welcome Home, BDo!

by Trixie

I must admit, I do very little to assist in my husband’s orchid hobby.  It started as his solo obsession, and I believe it will remain that way.  It is awesome to watch his enjoyment at helping things to grow (something I have never given much thought). He is meeting new people, discovering a new vocabulary, and having lots of fun writing about his growing love of all things orchid.

For my part, I am a good photographer, and I am always ready to jump into action when I see a kitty being cute, when there is exciting kitty/watering-day action, and to take pictures of pretty orchids.

This past week has been Spring Cleaning time at our house.  The orchid room (formally the “guest room” but it was decided that there would be more room for orchids if we got rid of the guest bed) has been a bit daunting to me, since it basically belongs to BDo, the kitties, and the orchids.

BDo left me with very specific watering instructions, which I followed exactly.  I was very careful of all the pretties, and took care to make sure they were happy.  But something was just striking me as wrong with the orchid arrangement. There was so much wasted window space! What “we” needed was some height, some room to hang plants, and better use of space.

Although I had been admonished to wait, and let him do the rearranging of the orchid room upon his return, I simply couldn’t. I needed to make things happen at the speed that makes me happy and satisfied, whereas BDo will wait months and months for a single flower to open.  I do have accidents when I get moving too fast and I wanted to make sure to be alone while working on the orchid transfer…..just in case.

You can see the before and after results of my labor in these photos.  I am very happy that things look less cluttered.  He was very happy to see how much room he has to play with, and he immediately started planning what Brassavolas he would be bringing home from the Oklahoma show.

Happy to do my part!  ~ Trixie

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"We Need Greater Diurnal Variation"

Riley frequently exhibits bad behavior, but he eventually found his place in Cats and Catts orchid house.  While he can't be trusted to watch over the orchids, and his research skills aren't as sharp as Sabine's, Riley's good with math and science.  So, we've put him in charge of monitoring our orchid growing culture.  He collected 58 days of data from December 21 to March 19 and has returned with the Winter Report. 

Winter 2010 Orchid Culture Report

By Riley Donovan

Average daily low relative humidity: 40.6%
Average daily high relative humidity: 63.8%
Average daily relative humidity: 52.2%
Average daily low temp: 59.8 F
Average daily high temp: 71.9 F
Average daily temp: 65.9
Average temp swing: 12.3

Our humidity is fine. Kansas experienced an especially cold winter, so we thought that anything above 50% relative humidity was doing okay. But Riley points to the daytime/nighttime temperature difference as a potential problem.  The 12 degree temperature swing is less than ideal.  As Riley explained, many orchids need a diurnal temperature variation of about 15 degrees to induce blooming.  Ned Nash writes that "a 15-20 degree difference between day and night is best" for growing cattleyas, especially mature plants (Brooklyn Botanic Garden Guide, pg. 46).  Riley suspects that the true temperature variation in the orchid space might be less than 12 degrees because the fancy thermometer might be logging nighttime lows and daytime highs that are reached only for brief moments.  The relatively small temperature swing is something we need to address.

Analysis of temperature variation might not be exciting, but it's important and Riley looks cute in glasses.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Lan Lan Wants More Paphiopedilums

Lan Lan peers over the lush foliage of Paph. Hatsue Otsuka 'Gold Spirits' AM/AOS x Paph. rothschildianum 'Baby Milais.'  I purchased this one from the Orchid Inn, Ltd. located in Bloomington Illinois and owned and operated by Sam and Jeanie Tsui.  Their website explains that the Hatsue Otsuka part of this hybrid is Paph. Golddollar x rothschildianum 'Rex,' and the 'Baby Milais' side is bred from a selfing of Mont Milais (for a little more on what "selfing" means, see here).  Going back another generation, Paph. Golddollar is a cross between Paph. primulinum x Paph. armeniacum.

The sample plants at Orchid Inn's Omaha Orchid Show display (see right) suggest what we can expect if everything goes okay. Lan Lan should see brilliant yellow flowers with a lip that has a gorgeous blush of red, and dark mahogany markings on the petals and sepals.

The rothschildianum species has a prominent stamp on the shape and coloring of this hybrid. Paph. rothschildianum is known by some as The King of the Paphs, so it is only fitting that Lan Lan -- Queen of the Paphs in the Cats and Catts house -- is looking over its wellbeing.