Thursday, May 27, 2010

Large-Flowered Cattleyas part 2a -- a new Cats and Catts Video

This is the latest effort from the Cats and Catts video production team.  We're walking through the large-flowered Cattleyas mentioned in Chadwick and Chadwick's The Classic Cattleyas (Timber Press, 2006).  Video 2a looks at the first six in order of their botanical description (labiata - trianaei).  Videos 2b and 2c will cover the remaining eleven species.

The video offers a few fun facts about each of the species.  It's only three minutes long so the presentation is, of necessity, superficial.  My ambitions are modest.  I like to start with basic facts and ideas and then build on them later.  

The Riley Method combines the Suzuki Method of music instruction with the memory techniques of Harry Loranye.  I experienced the Suzuki method for a brief couple of years as a youngster when I took violin lessons. What stands out for me in that experience was the mind-numbing repetition of listening to tape cassette recordings of someone else playing violin.  Eventually, I just "heard" this music like a ghost in my ears and I was supposed to reproduce that in the instrument.  Similarly, there's tremendous value in seeing specific species of orchids over and over.  Part 1 of this video series is the "Suzuki" moment where you kick back, listen to the Grateful Dead, watch the pretty flowers, and passively absorb the information.  

Part 2 engages the memory.  The Harry Lorayne memory technique uses exaggerated images to create chains of images that are essentially a "story."  Crazy stories are easier to learn than Latin words and abstract facts.  That's (kind of) the idea.  If you don't like it, blame the kitties.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Iguana versus Orchid, or “How NOT to Raise an Orchid”

  1. guest post by Liza

My orchid, Ursula, and I have been through quite a bit since I received her as a gift in February, 2010.  Mix my novice skills at orchid cultivation, curious and clumsy cats, hungry iguanas and a fungus infestation, and you have a blog post that I like to call “How NOT to Raise an Orchid.”

When Ursula first came into my life, she was beautiful to look at--a purple and white flower atop a strong stem, surrounded by healthy leaves.  I decided to put her in the iguana room, due to the room’s more constant warmth and humidity from the heat lamps and pool in the terrarium.  We put a shelf on the wall to keep her out of reach from our green buddies, and I watered her once each week, per instructions from B-Do and various internet sources.

Eventually I realized something was wrong.  B-Do schooled me on the right potting mix to use, the correct types of pots, and the different ways to keep humidity around the orchid without overwatering.  But something was still amiss.  She didn’t look sick, but I could just tell she wasn’t healthy.

Even with this help, she still wasn’t feeling any better.  So, I decided to move the orchid to the other bedroom, whose south facing window gets more light than the one in the green room (our name for the iguanas’ bedroom.)  This spurred some new growth that pleased me to no end . . . until the leaves slowly developed yellow patches with a black border.  Fungus!!

Well, then I went, again, to the internet, where I discovered that cinnamon has natural anti-fungal properties, and can be used to treat mild fungal infections in orchids.  It worked--my first real win in the battle of the Ursula’s survival!  I saw how well she was doing in the new space, and for the first time, I truly enjoyed being the caretaker of such a complex flower.

But life struck again.  One afternoon I forgot to close the door to the back bedroom.  After a very long (and trying) day at work, I came back to my apartment only to discover not only had the iguanas  had a wonderful mid-day meal, but my cats had also knocked the whole pot over.  I believe that I cried for 15 minutes before I could even begin to think about the cleanup.  Potting mix everywhere, the orchid lying helplessly on the ground with leaves that more resembled half-chewed artichoke leaves than those of a cattleya . . .could things get any worse??

For just a few moments, I considered throwing all my plant paraphernalia out the window and into the small brook below.  But, after a good cry and some xanex, I got the room put back together.  (And believe me, I learned my lesson about closing the G-D door!)

I should mention that at this time, Ursula is doing very well.  She has two new shoots growing from her base (both with tiny dew-like droplets), and some bright white roots that get bigger every day.  Her battle scars, while not very pleasant to look at, are reminders of the trials that we have survived together.  As a reward for her (and my) perseverance, we added a new orchid to our family, which we decided to name Ziva.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Ghost Story **updated below**

The original concept behind this post involved dressing the kitties up as ghosts, but they weren't very cooperative.  Here, I'm at the Oak Hills Gardens booth at SWROGA, posing with the legendary Ghost Orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii). Oak Hills sells baby ghosts for $12.50 and they're incredibly cute, but five years from flowering and decades before they assume the grandeur of the specimen shown above.  

Most of us know that the Ghost Orchid was popularized by The Orchid Thief and the movie "Adaptation."  So, I asked Greg, one of the Oak Hills orchidists, about John LaRoche's plan to become a millionaire from cloning the plant.  I was curious about the timeline, because it seemed like Oak Hills Gardens beat LaRoche at his own game.  Greg said, "Well, we haven't made millions from it, but it's our most popular plant by far."  Most, however, are sent off to an early death.  Dendrophylax lindenii has narrow wetness parameters; it's easily under-watered and over-watered.  Greg told me that hobbyists have made big strides in perfecting the cultural requirements of the species in the last five years or so, but it's still a challenge.

As most Cats and Catts readers know, the Ghost orchid is extremely rare in the wild.  Humans are destroying its natural habitat and its sole pollinator (a particular species of Sphinx moth).  There are only about a thousand of these orchids remaining in the world.  A new batch of ghost orchids were discovered growing on the old-growth bald cypress trees in the Corkscrew Sanctuary Park in Naples Florida in July 2007.  So far this year, one bloom opened in late March and lasted a couple of weeks.  Last year, one plant produced ten long lasting flowers.  

In my opinion, your best bet for seeing the ghost orchid "live" is at the Oak Hills Gardens vendors booth at the next orchid show.

**update**  I just noticed a recent post by Marc in About Orchids about seeing the ghost orchid at the Northwestern Pennsylvania Orchid Show.  Check it out -- he has great pictures.  The growers were Kim and Edgar Stehli of Windswept in Time Orchids.   

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Summer Swing

Today was special for the orchids.  I hung some of them from trees and placed others in alternative summer spots.  The weather report showed a consistent stretch of low nighttime temperatures in the 60s.  It's hot, humid, and the days are getting longer by leaps and bounds.  I can tell the orchids love it.

The photo is a Rvc. David Sander (formerly classified as a Brassavola).  It wants a lot of light.  Although it responded well to the windowsill and flourescent light combination, I think it will thrive in its new location. 

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Down Under Dendrobiums

Brian Gerhard of Down Under Native Orchids visited the Orchid Society of Greater Kansas City (OSGKC) last Sunday and gave a talk about Australian native dendrobiums. (The image on the right is a kingianum drawn in 1850). Gerhard and his plants have received many awards, including a recent CCM for Den. Tie-Dye (which had about 90 spikes and 700 blooms).  He's an expert and -- despite one glaring flaw -- he gave a lively, educational, and engaging talk.

I have one Australian Dendrobium in my collection, but it's a hybrid so I didn't feel like raising my hand when he surveyed the crowd because I feared I would open myself up to mockery.  I've seen tables of flowering Den. speciosum-gracilicaule x specio-kingianum at Ontario Orchids during a visit to Vista California, and I have a sense of how wonderful these plants can be.  So, I tried to take good notes because maybe, one day, I'll have enough growing space.

Brian called for care and consideration in watering Dendrobiums, giving familiar advice with unique urgency and practical details.  For instance, most Cats and Catts readers know that it's important to give deciduous Dendrobiums little or no water or fertilizer during the winter, but Brian insinuated that too many growers are too short with their winter rest.  We should be patient.  We should relax.  I've also heard the "water in the morning" advice countless times, but Gerhart punctuated the point, painting afternoon watering as a grave sin to the genus.  I will admit to occassional afternoon waterings but, the next time I'm tempted, I'll visualize a confident Australian telling me, "Just forget about it, mate.  Go have a scotch."  Finally, in my beginner's opinion, Gerhard gave golden cultural advice about keeping your growing pots above the flat surface of a table and on a screen that will allow airflow below the plant.  This advice conforms to my anecdotal experiences that orchids like the wind beneath their wings. I'm going to adjust my growing space accordingly.

So, what was the glaring flaw?  Well, Gerhard is a skilled public speaker who knows that, despite all our unwavering seriousness about orchids, many orchid-related presentations are enlived by images of local color.  Toward this end, Brian had several pictures of snakes and kangeroos to spice up the plant pics.  But I failed to see any cats.  Don't the Australian native cats deserve photographic attention?

Despite the lack of kitty photos, it was a solid talk.  You can see a few minutes of it (from orchid blogger Jami Parkinson) here:


Monday, May 17, 2010

Why Does Michael Pollan Hate Orchids?

Does Michael Pollan hate orchids?  Strong evidence leads me confidently to this conclusion.  

Pollan's collection of gardening essays Second Nature fails to mention orchids, despite the fact that they're one of the largest families of flowering plants.  His essay on antique roses was fascinating, but I have no idea why refuses to give orchids equal treatment. 

You might ask, "what about his 2009 National Geographic article about orchids?"  Well, if orchids had legal standing to sue, they might have a good libel case.  "Nature's version of the inflatable love doll?" Must orchids be reduced to their sexuality?  Pollan also suggested that there's a "strong sexual subtext" in orchid fanaticism.  He said that learning about orchids' adaptive reproductive strategies can lead one to "admire them more but, perhaps, love them less," and concluded that humans have become "orchid dupes."  Sure, it was a well-written article that will, more likely than not, generate interest and enthusiasm about our beloved plants.  But -- if you read between the lines -- Michael Pollan is saying that orchids are little sluts and their fans have some serious Freudian hangups. 

The final piece of evidence comes from the Botany of Desire PBS video.  During my fourth viewing the other night I noted his fleeting reference to orchids during his discussion of marijuana cultivation. He said something like, "I realized that the best and most innovative gardeners of my generation -- they aren't orchid growers, there're not growing roses -- are growing pot."  Here, his anti-orchid bias shines through.  Pollan knows that there are over 100,000 registered orchid hybrids.  Some represent crosses from recently-discovered species, while others have breeding lines that stretch back to the 19th century.  Orchid hybridizing represents a beautiful fusion of science and art, and it has a long history.  Pollan's comment felt like a deliberate, hateful, insult.  He made my baby Cattleya hybrids cry.  They're only seedlings after all. 

I write this as a fan of Michael Pollan.  He needs to write a complete book about orchids and not tease us with these brief essays that are so prone to misunderstanding. I think orchids need Michael Pollan and, perhaps more importantly, Michael Pollan needs more orchids. 

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Stunning Cypripediums

As I mentioned in an
earlier post, Beth and Doug Martin's "Hardy Orchids" was the stand-out display at the 2010 SWROGA and Oklahoma Orchid Society Show.  So, I was delighted to see that the AOS website has run a feature article on the Martins for the last few weeks.  It notes that their exhibit "arguably brought the most comments."  It's easy to see why.

The main show piece was a group of beautifully grown Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin 'Doug's Delight' AM/AOS, CCM/AOS.  If you squint, you can imagine them blanketing a field in yellow and maroon.  If you look close, you'll be dazzeled by the complex and dainty twistiness of the lateral petals.  If you step back from the flowers, you'll likely think "Wow!  These babies are growing in a $3 plastic storage container!"  I saw show-goers move straight to their exhibit, past dozens of gorgeous Catts and big Dendrobium sprays, and then they would return to it fifteen minutes later.

The exhibit described how to create a "container bog" to keep things saturated below the root zone.  These plants are grown outside in the Midwest with extra protection against accidental warm-ups during the winter to ensure the plants don't decide to start too early (and then die off when it gets cold again).

I'm looking forward to reading about the Martins' cypripediums and other hardy orchids in a future issue of Orchids magazine (I think they are also slated to be featured in Orchid Digest and/or an Orchid Digest video feature).  Doug and Beth are the stalwart leaders of my orchid society (the Orchid Society of Greater Kansas City) and they have gone out of their way this year to make me feel welcomed into the orchid world.  So, I might be biased, but I was thrilled to see good things happen to good people!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Bellatulum Bean

Sabine is looking after two Paph. bellatulum species I bought from the Orchid Inn Ltd.  I've sent Bean to do a little research on the Paphiopedilum subgenus Brachypetalum.  Now that I own three of them I should probably learn about their care and maintenance.

But before Bean lets loose with the technical details, can we talk about the look of these incredible plants?  The blots of red and rust convey a lot of dramatic effect for such a small flower.  It's almost like the white flowers were caught in a bloody crime scene.  If you stare at the petals long enough, though, you can discern movement and rhythm in how Nature (and the hybridizing foresight of Sam Tsui) arranged the dots and splashes on the flower.  The petals look a little like elephant ears, and the photos I've seen of award-winning bellatulums show a dorsal sepal that's cupped and rounded, filling out a circle with the petals and creating the effect of a satellite TV dish.  The first one I bought was a complex hybrid involving a plant with the grex name 'Space Opera,' which perfectly captures the beautiful strangeness of these little dudes.

Frowine (in Miniature Orchids) cautions to keep bellatulums drier than most paphs.  They can be killed by too much water and growing conditions that are too warm.  Therefore, air movement is especially crucial for these species.  One grower on the Slipper Orchid Forum warns of crown rot.

The folks at echo this concern about air flow and give detailed cultural advice.  They write that a "happy brachy" has somewhat succulent leaves and fat roots.  They grow some of theirs under fluorescent lights about 3" below the tubes, causing their plants to dry out in 3-4 days.  The Orchid Web states that they can grow well 6" under the lights. 

We're going to make sure they're getting enough air movement with our current fan set-up.  Then we will sit back and enjoy the elephant ears, satellite dish, crime scene, space opera, or whatever other image comes to mind gazing at these bellatulum beauties.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

SWROGA Video Diary 2010

Here are some of my favorite flowers from the Oklahoma show last week. 

So, I missed Glen Decker's talk on slipper orchids.  Dang!  Except for that scheduling snag, I had an absolutely fine time at the Oklahoma Orchid Society Show last weekend, held in conjunction with the Southwest Regional Orchid Grower's Association (SWROGA) annual meeting.  What a show!  Dozens of plants were pulled for AOS judging and a handful were scored (I counted an HCC, about four AMs, two CCMs, and a JC).  

Of particular note, Doug and Beth Martin from the Orchid Society of Greater Kansas City returned home with a bevy of awards (including three blue ribbons, the SWROGA trophy, Best Flower in the Cypripedium Alliance, Best Grown Plant, Best Educational Exhibit, the Slipper Orchid Alliance Trophy, an Orchid Digest Trophy, an HCC, AM, and a CCM [pending registration etc. etc.]). Some of these awards were for their educational exhibit "Growing Hardy Orchids in Containers" and others were for specific plants or flowers in the exhibit.  I was in total awe.  

I will try to recapture some of the other high points this month on Cats and Catts.  Keep it locked on the kitties.