Friday, December 31, 2010

The Case for Catts

As Selena Sabine (left) prepares her final Brachypetalum posts, I've resumed normal blogging to enter a cool contest hosted by The Rainforest Garden blog.  Steve has invited other garden bloggers to write about their favorite epiphyte and possibly win some plants.  Soon, he's going to have Epiphyte Day on The Rainforest Garden blog featuring all of the posts.  Not only is this a great way to learn more about plants and flowers, but it helps create cohesion in the garden blogging community.  It's nice to know there are other people as crazy as you are and willing to blog about it.

I learned that many orchids were ephiphytic from a movie long before I started growing the plants.  In Adaptation (2002), Nicolas Cage shares a memorable and uncomfortable scene with a waitress in a diner.  The waitress looks down at a mass of orchid books and makes an innocent comment about how they grow on trees.  Charlie Kaufman (played by Cage), deep in orchid addiction, blurts out "They're epiphytes!" and hastens to add, "But they're not parasitic..."  The movie suggested that Orchid People are definitely obsessive and possibly deranged.  Looking at the average Phalaenopsis, however, I just didn't get it.

Then I discovered CattleyasCattleya is an Orchidaceae genus of 113 species.  The broader Cattleya Alliance includes related genera like Brassovola and Laelia.  From the 19th century into the 1960s, Cattleyas stood as the archetype of orchids, much like Phals dominate the orchid market today.  Steve Frowine, in Fragrant Orchids (2005), noted that "To many people, especially those from the older generation, the words orchid and cattleya were synonymous."

Griffin and a mini-Catt
The proper way to say "Cattleya" is KAT-lee-a, with a definite "lee" sound in the middle of the word.  But you'll hear many people, including people who have been growing and hybridizing orchids for years and years, say KAT-Lay-a or KAT-a-lay-a.  I don't advocate being a jerk and correcting the aforementioned orchid growers, but Cats and Catts readers should know that the genus is named after William Cattley, not "William Cattlay" or "William Cattelaya."

The biggest case for Catts: scent.  The perfume of a lavender Catt like C. Drumbeat 'Heritage' HCC/AOS is a life-changer.  One whiff and I instantly understood  orchid mania on a corporeal level.  Consider the range of fragrance-descriptors used in Frowine's chapter on the Cattleya Alliance: hot chocolate, spicy, sweet floral, vanilla, cinnamon, honey, and lemon.  None of those scents, however, really captures the sublime and enchanting smell of Cattleya flowers.  One flower can perfume an entire room for weeks.  Like Liz Lemon and popcorn, I catch a Cattleya scent and think "I Want To Go To There."

A second reason to go crazy for catts is their in-your-face beauty.  Cattleyas are flowery, showy, and proud.  I had to learn to love and find beauty in moth and slipper orchids, but catts won me over at first sight.  I'm not alone.  Cattleyas were the most popular corsage flower from the 19th century until the late 1950s and early 1960s (when cheaper Oncidiums captured the market).  I think back to the lame corsages I bought for major high school dances in the 1980s and feel cheated.  Not only did the so-called Greatest Generation have Cattleya corsages, but women wore them to all high school dances and major events, not just Prom and Homecoming.

Finally, the Cattleya genus has a fascinating history.  From the European discovery of C. labiata in 1818 to recent DNA analysis that's reshuffled taxonomic categories, Cattleyas have consistently played a major role in orchid history.  In 1922, for instance, Knudson made a sea-changing breakthrough in horticulture by germinating Cattleyas seeds on sterile agar.  The breeding histories of many catt hybrids stretch far back in time, inviting you to consider the regal parentage of that pretty $15 Potinara you bought at the show.

So, is there a case against Catts?  Yes, they're light-hogs that can grow big and unwieldy -- especially the ones that have the strong perfume.  A windowsill hobbyist might opt to have one or two in their collection, and the miniature and compact catts available at Sunset Valley Orchids can fill the remaining empty space.

We've discussed Cattleyas elsewhere on Cats and Catts (see below) but it's great to have this opportunity to make the case for Catts as an important epiphyte that belongs in everyone's collection.  Thanks!   

The Cattleya Alliance on Cats and Catts

Labiata Lore – We look at the apocryphal tale of C. labiata’s discovery and rediscovery, and explain why Chadwick and Chadwick’s The Classic Cattleyas (2006) offers the definitive historical account of this special species.

Bean Bumping the Brassavola – Selena Sabine acting cute, as usual.  (For bad kitty versions, see Stop Harassing the Brassavolas! and Worst Kitty in the House!)

Brassavola Award History, 1969-2008 – a report by Selena Sabine – The best cat in the house analyzes data on her favorite genus in the Cattleya Alliance.

Dancing to the Drumbeat – We take an in-depth look at the popular hybrid C. Drumbeat ‘Heritage HCC/AOS.’

Iguana vs. Orchid – In a guest post, Liza describes her triumph over root rot and examines the complicated relationship between her Cattleya and her pet iguana.

Large-flowered Cattleyas video part 1 – A cascade of large-flowered, or “labiata-type,” Cattleyas set to
the Grateful Dead’s “China Cat Sunflower.”

Large-flowered Cattleyas video part 2a – Now we go into professor-mode and kick around some Catt knowledge.

Large-flowered Cattleyas video part 2b – Yes, “finish part 2c” is on my list of New Year’s Resolutions.

Who Was Sidney Bracey? – This post traces the important role of famous orchid hybridizer Sidney Bracey in popularizing Knudson’s agar technique.

Who Was Bob Betts? – We look at an orchid grower known for breeding gorgeous white Cattleyas.


David & Melanie said...

Happy New Year.
David/ Tropical Texana/ Houston

CatsandCatts said...

Thanks guys! Happy New Year to you, too.

Emily Kennedy said...

Hey, thanks for the pronunciation lesson. I was definitely pronouncing Cattleya wrong. Also, did you install a new blog skin? I like the rounded edges.