Monday, December 19, 2011

Sukhakulii Without the Warts

I've discussed my affinity for the Brachypetulam subgenus in a number of blog posts, most notably in the "Brachypetalum: Church of the Subgenus" series. But I'm finding myself increasingly drawn to the Barbatum Alliance. I love Maudiae types: regal, classic, and all-around awesome. I also like that I can grow these plants without much drama. They seem to like my setup. Paph. sukhakulii is one of the most important species of the subgenus. It's recognizable with its warts and hairs. It's a freaky looking thing and definitely an "acquired taste." So, I was a little skeptical when I purchased this one from Windy Hill.

But I love it! Oh my goodness! It's Paph. sukhakulii var. aureum ('Green Eagle' x 'Green Ghost'), so it's got green going on all day long. You can buy one here. The crazy hairs and warts characteristic of sukhakulii just aren't there, and I like it like that.    

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Nerd Nite!

Isn't this the coolest flower you've ever seen? This is Paph. Makuli (sukhakulii var. aureum 'Green Eagle' x Maudiae 'The Queen' AM/AOS) purchased from Windy Hill Orchids. You can't hear it, but it's screaming, "Take me to a flower show! Take me to a Judging Center!" The petals have a 13.7 cm horizontal spread and the last AM of this particular hybrid (awarded in 2004) had a 14.0 cm spread. The symmetry is gorgeous. I love how the warts line up on the topside of the petals. It's an instant favorite.

Last night, I had an opportunity to show off my enthusiasm for orchids at Nerd Nite and I brought the Makuli along as a visual aid. Nerd Nite is nationwide phenomenon based on the idea that nerds should gather to share their passion about nerdy and geeky things. It's a brilliant idea. Typically, Nerd Nite takes place on a monthly basis, is hosted by a restaurant or similar venue, and attracts a crowd for three 20-minute presentations. My talk was titled "Paphiopedilum Dreams: Confessions of an Orchid Freak." I hope to post the video soon. Stay tuned! 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Team Bella

I love the double bloom! This is Paph. Triple Bella (Paph. Bella Lucia and Paph. Triple Trix), last seen under Sabine's supervision here. This plant and my glorious Phrag. have made for an exciting Autumn. A third show-stopper opened yesterday (details soon).

Despite my love of Brachys they're living up to their repuation as a tough Paph subgenus to cultivate. I think I'd do better if all of my plants were Brachys (not happening) and I'd do better if I took my own advice. Like I tell everyone, you'll kill your Brachys if you water them with the rest of your Paphs. Wait another day or two.

However, our risk of insanity increases exponentially with every complication we add to our watering routine. Is it worth the risk? The fungus-infested plants I've killed say no, but the two flowers above say yes, yes, and YES.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Hilltop Hints

Cute Kitties Posing with Fallen Phrag Flower
I mentioned in the last post that I was like a kid on Christmas when my Phrag. Eumelia Arias bloomed. It was a big event in the Cats and Catts house. I took it from an aspiring seedling to its full glory, and the timing appeared to be perfect. Dick Wells from Hilltop Orchids visited our orchid society on Sunday and I intended to show him the success I've had with one of his hybrids. So, of course, the flower decided to fall off Sunday morning. Drat!

I didn't get to show off my Phrag. (well, I brought the fallen flower), but the visit was outstanding nonetheless. Dick Wells shared his vast wisdom with us, gave a potting demonstration, and talked specifically about cultivating Phrag. kovachii hybrids. Here are some highlights:

Rice hulls are the New Perlite The cost of perlite is soaring, leaving orchid vendors searching for alternatives. Rice hulls dry out at a nice and even rate, and Hilltop has had great success incorporating rice hulls into their standard potting media. You can purchase their mix here. Also, sells bags of rice hulls.

Epsom salts for the kovachii hybrids Use 2-2.5 Tbs per gallon. Wells recommends spraying the plants with it every 2-3 months (I've used it successfully as a monthly drench). Using it with a fertilizer, however, will nullify the benefit (the plant can only use so much magnesium sulfate at any one time).

You're Probably Over-Potting Well, I am at least. I've been too squeamish about damaging the roots. I didn't think I was over-potting until I saw Dick give a little demonstration on four or five plants. The roots need even less space than I imagine. The crew at Hilltop Orchids repot 500 to 600 orchids a day, so I trust Dick's judgment.

I drove home with a couple of new plants -- Phrag. Fritz Schomberg and Phal. equestris var. alba. -- and several new ideas for improving my orchid culture.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Phrag Fabulous

Phrag. Eumelia Arias
I'm thrilled with the first bloom from my Phrag. Eumelia Arias (kovachii x schlimii), originally featured in Cats and Catts on February 21 2010. I bought it from Hilltop Orchids -- you can buy one for yourself here. It was like Christmas morning when it opened, and I have no problem looking right past its flaws to admire its sparkling ruby color. It might sound a little psychotic, but this plant has occupied my thoughts for nearly two years. Here are a few reasons why:

Sabine w/ Phrag & its original container
 1. It's a high-maintenance plant and, therefore, it's extra gratifying to see in bloom. It's fussy. I drench it with reverse-osmosis water three or four times a week, and the plant receives other perks (dissolved epsom salts once a month and crushed oyster shells four times a year). The need to water it frequently leads me to catch pests and culture problems early. In fact, my tendency to over-water has been stunningly success with this plant. A wet Phragmipedium is a happy Phragmipedium.

2. One of Eumelia Arias's parent species, Phrag. kovachii, has a fascinating history. The 2001 discovery of Phrag. kovachii was monumental for the orchid community: the flowers had a deep purple color no one had seen before (opening up a new world of hybridization possibilities) and its flowers were huge. But the drive to be the first to import and describe the new species led to dodgy behavior. Its Western discoverer, Michael Kovach, faced thousands of dollars in fines for illegally smuggling the plant from Peru into the US. The late Eric Christenson was inches away from writing the first description of it, but Kovach and the Selby Botanical Garden bum rushed the taxon, and so now we call it Phrag. kovachii (instead of peruviana). Big discovery. Big controversy.

3. Finally, the flower is super gorgeous and it has a diamond dusting look that's inadequately captured in the photos. It's stare-worthy.

All in all, it's a highly satisfying orchid. I definitely see more Phrags in my future.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Attack of the Phylogeneticists!

Ceci n'est pas une Ondontoglossum
If you own any Odontoglossums it's time to change the tag. Molecular phylogeneticists have, once more, unleashed their cladograms on the orchid community. New DNA studies show that Odontoglossums are not meaningfully distinct from Oncidiums in terms of genetics and evolution. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHC) has decreed that Odontoglossums are now Oncidiums. The RHC creates the official taxonomical reality for the American orchid world (institutionalized in the American Orchid Society). So, we now change our tags from Ond. to Onc. No big deal, right?

But what if you're, say, Robert Hamilton, a founding member of the International Ondontoglossum Alliance? What if you've been obsessed with Odonts since 1979? The change might irritate you a little bit. 

Hamilton's article in the new issue of Orchid Digest "Odonotoglossum: Requiescat in Pace" traces the genus's history from its first description in 1816 to its recent demise. Hamilton acknowledges phylogenetics as "valid science," but raises three concerns. The lumping and splitting required of any taxonomical distinction, whether its based on DNA or not, is, ultimately, arbitrary. The DNA relationships ("clades") proposed by the phylogeneticists can result in infinite regress, such that the distinction between humans and chimps (Homo and Pan) falls away. Finally, the decision to lump Odontoglossum into the genus Oncidium fails the "five-year-old test" wherein a child can point to obvious differences between two flowers.

The "DNA Boys" (as Patricia Harding has referred to them) have prompted the orchid community to endure a lot of nomenclature changes in the last 10 or so years, and these changes have generate a lot of unbridled hatred toward taxonomists. But is it warranted?

I received poor marks in school for science and math, but I've seen the movie "Real Genius" enough to feel qualified to comment boldly on scientific disputes. The plot of Martha Coolidge's hit 1985 comedy suggests that you should side with the kids, in this case, the DNA Kids and their Crazy Cladograms. The phylogeneticists aren't setting out to ruin our favorite hobby. They proceed from the simple fact that some orchid species evolved before other orchid species. Discovering and analyzing patterns among those evolutionary relationships might, in the long run, help us grow better and healthier orchids.     


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Keikiechtomy is a New Word

A perky keiki atop Den. Berry 'Oda' AM/AOS
This is a difficult post to write -- not because I'm inexperienced in creating fake words -- but Lan Lan is laying directly over my wrists. She bites if I move too quickly.

My Dendrobium Berry 'Oda' AM/AOS endured a keikiechtomy yesterday. The link will take you to a photo showing what the plant looked like under Griffin's care two years ago. Now, it's all grown up ... with a kid!

A Newly Liberated Keiki
Experienced Cats and Catts readers know that keikis are little offshoot plants that grow off of some epiphytic orchid species. They're clones of the mother plant; they have identical genes. "Keiki" means "baby" in Hawaiian, but in other cultures it means "free orchid." "Keikiechtomy" is a word I created a few minutes ago to refer to the process of removing keikis from mother plants. 

Here's my three-step keikiechtomy process:
Step One: Use a razor blade to hack haphazardly at the mother plant. Repeat until the keiki falls off.
Step Two: Pot the keiki in a gigantic pot with poor drainage.
Step Three: Make sure the keiki is unstable and can be knocked over with ease.

Actually, you should do the opposite of most of that.

Keikis sometimes need extra support.
It's best to conduct keikiechtomies in the Spring, but my keiki's roots were sufficiently long and I was bored. I would have placed the keiki and some wet sphagnum moss in a half-opened plastic bag for a month or so if the roots needed a boost.

Lan Lan looked up the word "Keikiechtomy" on Google and it yielded zero results, so I'm assuming full and complete copyright ownership. I shall relinquish my intellectual property rights if, and only if, someone wants to name their punk band "Keikiechtomy."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Phal. equestris: Litte Flower, Big Joy

Phal. equestis ('Blue Wan Chiao' x self)
Last year I met an orchid judge who told me that his all-time favorite species was Phal. equestris. I think they're cute, but I honestly didn't understand his excitement about a small-growing Phal

Now, I kind of get it. This genus has potential! Who knew? Two months ago, Peter Lin gave a presentation to the Orchid Society of Greater Kansas City about novelty-type Phals and it made me rethink the future of Phalaenopsis in my collection. In addition to showing a series of eye candy Phal photos, Peter delivered remarkably sane advice about potting Phals. Instead of suggesting either sphagnum moss or bark, he advocated a layered approach: moss on the top, bark in the middle, and foam packing peanuts on the bottom. It's worked really well with my equestris (see below).

Sabine loves the subtle color of this equestris variety
What are "novelty type Phals?" According to Lin, the phrase "novelty type" generally describes a plant that's non-standard and typically refers to a Phal that's smaller, colorful, fragrant, summer-flowering, and having heavy flower substance. Many novelty hybrids have Phal. amboinensis and/or violacea in their parentage. Check out the amazing color patterns on the novelty hybrids sold by Big Leaf Orchids.

I'd also like to cultivate the small-growing species Phals. I'm thrilled with my Phal. equestris ('Blue Wan Chiao' x self). It's bloomed with ease and it radiates a ton of cheerfulness in a small 2" pot. Although equestris isn't my all-time favorite, I can envision a future where it's in my top ten.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Photographing the 2011 Wisconsin Orchid Show

The 2011 Wisconsin Orchid Show at the Mitchell Park Conservatory in Milwaukee was awesome! The Wisconsin Orchid Society hosted a wonderful set of vendors and exhibitors, and the MidAmerican Orchid Congress ran a fabulous Fall meeting program. And, of course, I didn't take enough pictures.

I've attended a handful of orchid shows and I always try to take a lot of pictures. No matter how thorough my efforts appear to me at the time, I typically regret not taking better photos and more photos. The Wisconsin Orchid Show at the Mitchell Park Conservatory in Milwaukee presented special challenges. The exhibits were fantastic and well-lit by natural sunlight coming in from the glass space-age dome. Unlike most shows I've attended, the exhibits were set off against a natural background of trees and rock. It was a beautiful setting, but too challenging for my meager photography skills (I'm more comfortable with a black fabric background).

A couple of my friends are photography pros, so I have a sense of what quality photography is supposed to look like and its far distance from my point-and-click universe. I've never taken a class or read a book about photography so I lean on editing software. Photoshop bewilders me. I love Photoscape because it's free, easy to use, does almost everything I want, and takes up very little space on my computer. I also use an old Microsoft program called Picture It! which has a feature that superimposes the Rule of Thirds on the photo to allow for precise cropping.

My basic photographic strategy entails taking a lot of photos and letting only the very best see the light of day. I hope you enjoyed these five. I left a lot in the reject pile.   

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Postpumpkinism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism

The pumpkin seeds seemed to have so much promise back in June. I tossed a dozen in the raised bed and another dozen by the compost pile. Eventually, I thinned the seedlings down to three. The rapid and healthy growth encouraged me to indulge the plants' frequent need for water and attention. I saw small pumpkins form by the end of summer and my hopes swelled. I contemplated walking away from my career to pursue pumpkin farming because, after all, I'm so good at it. I'll have so many pumpkins, I thought, I'll have to give them away to an orphanage or something. When I told people about my pumpkins, some responded that they tried and gave up because of squash bug problems. I felt superior because I refused to give into these nasty insects and was prepared to let loose a chemical fury on the brood.

But squash bugs are unusually persistent. They had a roach-like ability to reproduce themselves despite my toxins. The pumpkin crop itself proved capricious: blossoms that looked so promising failed to mature, pumpkins in an improper position on the straw started to rot, and the heat and bugs did more damage than I wanted to admit. Now, looking over my pumpkin harvest, my total haul will be about 6-7 pumpkins. I definitely need to keep my day job.

I love all things pumpkin, but this experience has strengthened my identity as a flower gardener. Pumpkins inevitably reference their exchange-value and use-value. While we can appreciate its cylindrical shape and deep orange color, a pumpkin invites us to consider its uses in cooking. We have a sense of a pumpkin's worth through envisioning its transformation into pie or soup. It's difficult or impossible not to assigning a dollar amount to my pumpkins and it's dispiriting to see them sold in the local grocery store for far less than what I spent in pest control, water, and labor time.

Flowers, on the other hand, only reference themselves. They have no use-value and their exchange-value is driven by aesthetic considerations. I never think "Oh, I could make so many pies with those daylilies!" Like modern art, flowers' uselessness is part of their value and appeal. Flowers don't expect anything from us except an occasional arrangement in a vase. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Disco Cattleya

Riley with C. Arctic Star 'Snow Queen' (1979)
A lot happened in 1979. It ushered in the Iran hostage crisis, the Three Mile Island meltdown, and Rod Stewart's #1 hit "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy." But we also had disco and orchids. As the Salsoul blared on the airwaves, a Miami hybridizer named Roy Fields registered Cattleya Arctic Star (C. Claesiana x C. Fred Cole). I purchased this at a January orchid sale and it bloomed earlier in the week. It's like a lot of things created in 1979: undeniably awesome.

Essential keys to happiness: cats and catts!
C. Arctic Snow reminds me why I love Cattleyas. The scent is amazing and the flowers have timeless beauty. In my estimation, a white Cattleya can do no wrong. C. Arctic Star comes from regal heritage, including grandparents C. Vespers (registered in 1921 by Sir George Holford) and the legendary C. Bow Bells. Cattleya species schroderae, triane, cinnabarina, intermedia, and loddigesii are all in the background with C. loddigesii contributing to about 45% of its genetic makeup. 

C. Arctic Snow also reminds me why I can't have too many Cattleyas with my growing set-up. The plant takes up almost as much space as Griffin (see above). But, on the other hand, the orchid doesn't relentlessly beg me for treats.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bulbophyllum echinolabium: Would You Like Flies with That?

Bulbophyllum echinolabium
The Wisconsin Orchid Society put on a fantastic show last week and I was delighted to attend. It was also the fall meeting of the MidAmerican Orchid Congress. I was surrounded by good people and fine orchids all weekend. However, I learned that some of the best looking orchids are not so welcoming -- unless you're a fly. A case in point is the lovely Bulbophyllum echinolabium  selected for AOS judging at the Wisconsin show.  

Cats and Catts readers might recall from earlier posts that orchid shows often feature two rounds of judging. The first round, the ribbon judging, compares each orchid against other orchids entered into the show. The second round of judging involves accredited orchid judges from the American Orchid Society selecting plants for further consider for national awards. Here, the orchids are compared against previously awarded plants of the same species or type. 
Paph. niveum, not smelly, Wisconsin 2011

I'm not an orchid judge but I love to sit in on these judging sessions if given an opportunity. You can learn a lot. Orchid judges assemble around a table with the plant as the centerpiece. Someone carefully measures the petals and sepals. Another retrieves information from a computerized database. They discuss the flower's shape, form, size, color, and other qualities. It's exciting. (Here, it's worth noting a few other things I find exciting -- old movies, contract bridge, and historical research -- just to put things into perspective). 

Anyway, the judges' conversations are invariably fascinating but it was difficult for me to focus because the flower smelled like rotting meat. Bulbophyllum are notoriously smelly, and that's why I don't have any in my collection. I'd rather have something like a Paph. niveum because it's pretty to look at and it doesn't stink. But I respect the Bulbophyllum genus and recognize the its evolutionary brilliance. Some of the species resemble rotting meat and have developed a bright red lip and horrid scent to attract carrion fly pollinators. And the flower's diabolical plan worked! A pack of green flies swarmed around it during the thirty minutes or so it was on the table. I saw the Bulbophyllum in its exhibit and, there too, a bunch of fly boys desperately buzzed around trying to get the rotting flesh. It's a beautiful flower, but I'm content to let others grow it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Bathtub of Brassavolas

You know that we're big fans of the Brassavola genus here at Cats and Catts, so it shouldn't be a terrible surprise that I have a mad mess of them in my bathtub. What's surprising is that only one of these has bloomed for me (B. Little Stars). I've had some for a few years now and -- although I haven't killed them -- I haven't put them in a blooming disposition. I'm all stocked up on Brassavolas on the empty hope that I'll someday be rewarded with gorgeous white flowers and their maddeningly entrancing smell. So, what's the source of my bad luck? I have have some theories:

Among orchid genera, Brassavolas can withstand a tremendous amount of light. They are the high-lightest of the high-light orchids. They want to be right up against the glass of the windowsill or inches from a grow light. But, as you can see, they aren't very demur about the amount of space they take up. Like an octopus, they want to spread their pendant tentacles in every direction. They can't possibly fit in a windowsill without displacing my other orchids that want a lot of light.

Humidity is another problem. Most of my Brassavolas are on wood mounts. They grow well like that, but require daily misting and carefully maintained humidity. Dry spells brought on by a short vacation, a malfunctioning humidifier, or a mid-winter cold snap can quickly damage a plant's root system. I speak from experience. 

The final theory centers on the cats. Between Bean's Brassavola bumping and Riley's outright assaults, it's a wonder they've been with me this long. It's difficult to grow healthy plants if your cats are constantly harassing them.

I'm contemplating a few options, including giving up hope. The best and most ambitious response to my Brassavola problem is a Wardian case built exclusively for my Brassavolas and their needs. I've been thinking about it all summer. I could apply my cold frame construction skills to create a glass box with a fogger, small fan, high light, and some sort of watering system. What could go wrong? Except for spending a lot of time on something that looks hideous and doesn't work... There's that.

But maybe it will work? I have to try something or these things are going to take over the house. psuedobulb by psuedobulb.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Deadlines

My month-long blog hiatus can be explained in a single word: deadlines. What my gamer friends might call RL (real life) displaced my ability and energy to blog. But I'm back! I've got flower pictures, cat stories, and various musings about the orchid life. One of my deadlines involved an essay about Katy Perry. The essay recently appeared in an online venue (sponsored by the Sarah Lawrence College Women's History Graduate Program). It has nothing to do with orchids and cats (unless you count Hello Kitty! and Katycats) but you can read it here if you're interested. 
Today's flower is from an unregistered cross: Paph. primulinum x Paph. S. Gratrix. Specifically, it's Paph (primulinum 'Gold Bug' x S. Gratrix 'Algonquin' AM/AOS) from Windy Hill. I love it! The green is nice and clear, and the subtle red dotting from the S. Gratrix parent gives it its beautiful freckled-look. The stippling on the dorsal sepal is definitely not symmetrical but the way the red dots break away on the lateral petals is super cool. As an added bonus, it's blooming sequentially (the second flower bud is becoming more visible).

So, that's the good stuff going on in the Cats and Catts house. On a sad note, the orchid community lost one of its great contributors with the recent death of Fred Bergman. He taught me a lot about orchids and I know that I'm one of the many people who will miss his presence at our monthly meetings. It will be easy to remember Fred, though, if only because he has so many hybrids named after him. I'm a proud owner of Phal. Fred's Pimento, and his memory will live on through every bloom season.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Where No Kitty Has Gone Before

Riley explores his Bajoran faith.
Trixie leaves for the Star Trek National Convention in just a few days. This is a HUGE yearly event in the Cats and Catts house involving months of planning and preparation. It's kind of a big deal.

Last year, Trixie wore two Deanna Troi costumes. This year, she's rocking another Troi outfit (it looks awesome!), a Trill costume (with airbrushed Trill spots), and a Dabo Girl costume. Dabo girls are Bajoran, so Trixie and her sister have hired a former Star Trek make-up artist to come to their hotel room in the morning to affix the proper Bajoran nose. Hardcore. I know. I live with it (as well as the voice-activated Tribbles in our living room). 

But I get it now. I watched the different series with her over the last few years and I think I finally understand the unique depth and devotion of Star Trek fans. Why is the Star Trek universe so awesome? I could reference its inter-textuality, how the plots, themes, and characters of Next Generation, Voyager, and DS9 form a canonical narrative, a grand story historically rooted in the original series and Enterprise. Or, I could make a "works on multiple levels" argument and list the layers of appeal (science, adventure, war, romance, etc.).

But the best argument for Star Trek are the Bajoran. I'm not saying that to be controversial. I'm not saying that because Kira Nerys (played by Nana Visitor) is my all-time favorite Star Trek character (although that's obviously part of the calculus). It's just ... I believe in Bajor. When I'm feeling down about the Earth world I can cheer myself up by envisioning a gorgeous planet with five moons, lush landscape, and occupied by humanoids with cute nose wrinkles and fun earrings. Bajoran culture, religion, and lifestyle are something to which we can aspire. And as for the "Kirk vs. Picard" debate, I would ask "So, refresh my memory: which of those Captains was the Emissary of the Prophets?" ('nuff said).  

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Total Dessication

Making your own daylily hybrids is all fun and games, but what if the two daylilies you want to cross aren't in bloom at the same time? The daylily breeder needs a method of preserving pollen for future use. The Internet has no shortage of opinions, but my four key go-to sources here are: Daylilies: The Perfect Perennial by Lewis and Nancy Hill, Oscie B. Whatley Jr.'s essay The Art of Hybridizing, John Peat and Ted Petit's The New Encyclopedia of Daylilies, and (even though it's not lily-specific) Moulton's Orchids from Seeds for Pennies

You'll find some variation in the advice but the experts are consistent about one point: the pollen needs to be dry. Moisture is the enemy of pollen.

A lot of the advice suggests storing pollen in the refrigerator because of its dryness. Some argue that freezing the pollen is better because you can extend its use to the next growing season. The trade-off, however, is that freezers lack proper air conditioning. 

Are you still awake?

First, we need to acknowledge that rain can always ruin our morning pollen collection and application efforts. The breeder should collect pollen early in the morning before humidity corrupts it. My pollen collection skills improved over the course of the summer and I tried a variety of techniques and tools. The easiest method, in my opinion, involves plucking the pollen with a pair of small scissors and shoveling it into a folded Post-It note

The pollen goes into a dessication chamber for 12-24 hours. For this purpose I'm using a canning jar with a piece of mesh cloth to create a platform inside the glass. I stir Damp Rid into a 1/4 cup of water until it gets thick, creating a "super saturated solution."

The final step requires a some kind of case, empty pill bottles, weekly pill cases, Damp-Rid, and a drill with a small bit. I store the pill cases in a plastic box. I use a small pill container (with holes drilled in the top and on the sides) with Damp Rid. Some of the weekly pill cases have holes drilled into the inside chambers with the final chamber containing a little bit of Damp Rid. Other pill cases have holes drilled into the top. 

We'll see how it works out next season! 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sharks, Seed Pods, and Patience

'Colony' (Tankesley-Clarke, 2004)
This is 'Colony,' a 2004 introduction by Eric and Bob Tankesley-Clarke. Let's dispense with the obvious criticisms: the form is a little mangled and it lacks desired bilateral symmetry. It might be due to grower error, its relative newness in the garden, and/or the streak of insane July heat we've experienced in Kansas. I know it might look washed out but (trust me) the color combo is dazzling: lavender, cream, and metallic. The cultivar is a cross between 'Wedding Band' (the "pod parent") and 'Desert Empress' (the "pollen parent"). You can see the influence of 'Wedding Band' in the gold edgings. Like 'Wedding Band,' photographs fail to convey its beauty, but a close-up is the next best thing. 
'Colony,' ready for its close-up

In the first photo, you see a green seed pod ripening on the scape. It's 'Spacecoast Scrambled' x 'Cosmic Sensation.' 'Cosmic Sensation' was probably my favorite this year owing to the vivid purple/white color contrast and the shark-toothed edging. Keeping with the theme, I recently purchased Elizabeth Shooter's 2001 introduction 'Playing With Sharks.' I bought it from Blue Ridge Daylilies, the only daylily vendor on Cats and Catts "Kitty Approved!" list. I'm on the lookout for 'Barracuda Bay' (Salter 1996) and 'Iwanna Piranha' (Kinnebrew 2006). In the meantime, my ('Spacecoast Scrambled' x 'Cosmic Sensation') could be the next Stout Silver Medal winner, or birds and bugs could be devouring the pod as you are reading this. Smart money will bet on the latter.

My latest MUST HAVE -- 'Playing With Sharks'

 The garden has only a few more blooms left before it closes down for the season. Daylily seed pods take about 40 days to mature from the day of pollination, so I need to stay with the daylily garden into early September to harvest the seeds. Plant-wise, I'll be enveloped into the orchid world from September to March. In March, daylily seedlings (started indoors) will go into the cold frame. Fireworks from the established daylilies will begin a few months later, but only after I've been thoroughly distracted by daffodils and tulips.

Gardening seems like it requires a great deal of patience, but I'm not so sure. I have orchids, daylilies, and other perennials at different stages of growth. I never need to be patient because there's always something in bloom, something in a death spiral, and everything in between. Every gardening day brings new challenges and joys, just like life. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Vista Agave

Agave americana
Trixie and I were in Vista California for a relaxing vacation visiting friends and family. This gave me a chance to see all of the amazing landscaping efforts my parents have made in the last couple of years. Daylilies, Alstromeria, roses, orchids, and more. When my dad said that they had yellow daylilies, I assume they had 'Stella {{yawn}} de Oro,' but the lilies were much more impressive, with a bright color and 5-6" blooms.

An impressive Agave americana (century plant) sits in a neglected corner of the property. As a child, it always looked especially vicious and the bloom cycle seemed impossibly long (once every ten years!). The blooms go up about 30 feet and then fall down like a big tree. It dies after every bloom and then sends out pups. This plant has been loitering in that spot since at least the early 1970s. It's still impressive!

Friday, July 15, 2011

All That Glitters

This is 'Glitter Gal' (Mix 2005). I purchased it last year at the Topeka Daylily Sale. It's hard to believe that someone was willing to part with it, but it only produced three flowers for me this year and it might have done less for its last owner. It's a long way from the 6-way branching and 45 bud count promised in the catalogs. You have to have patience if you're going to court a glitter gal.

In other news, I'm on twitter. Follow me! But know I'm using it as an all-purpose account, so you'll find my political retweets and nutty Katy Perry updates right alongside the orchid and flower posts. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Pollen Pushers

'Siloam David Kirchhoff'
I'm not the only one who collects pollen in the early morning. I compete with the insects, and they're probably having more luck than me. Some of my crosses have been a complete bust. I want to blame the weather, but I probably could've done a better job watering the garden. I took the resilience of the daylily for granted. The seed pods need hydrated soil to develp properly. 

'Fooled Me' x 'Pat Garrity' has produced nice pods and I'm almost confident I will have something to harvest in a few weeks. 'Janice Brown' x 'Beautiful Edgings' also shows promise. Other crosses might come through with a pod or two and, with a little luck, I'll have enough to fill the raised bed for next season. It's all a big experiment. Hybridizing daylilies might seem like it takes an extraordinary amount of patience, but it occurs with lightening fast speed compared to seed-to-flower time for orchids. And I kind of like the slow pace. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

I Love the Smell of Diethyl-meta-toluamide in the Morning

Early morning pollination
DEET doesn't smell like victory, but it allows me to leave the daylily garden without a ghastly array of chigger and mosquito bites. It's important for me to be outside during the summer months for at least two to three hours a day. The early morning is ideal. I collect daylily pollen, make crosses, water the orchids, take a few bird photos, and settle into work. Forgive me for talking about the weather, but the Midwest summer morning always seems like it's going to last longer than it does. For instance, it's a lovely 83 degrees right now and, although I know it's going to surpass 100 today, the perfection feels like it could last forever. Why wouldn't it?

'Beautiful Edgings' (Copenhaver 1989)
The extreme weather hurts the viability of my daylily crosses, but there's not much I can do. I made about twenty today and I will be happy if one or two set seed. Like so many things in gardening/life, hybridizing involves a balancing act. On one side, I'm playing a Darwinian numbers game. I want to make a large number of crosses in the hope that a smaller number of them survive. Then, I'll select from the best of the survivors the following season. On the other side, I don't want to make too many crosses because doing too much dilutes my efforts. My garden could produce nearly 100 hybrid combinations despite its small size, but when would I have time to water and care for the orchids? 
Here's my modest list of June crosses (the first name listed is the pod parent and the second name refers to the pollen parent):
'Early Snow' x 'Cosmic Sensation'
'Fooled Me' x 'Pat Garrity'
'Spacecoast Scrambled' x 'Royal Renaissance'
'Peach Candy' x 'Royal Renaissance'
'Cheddar Cheese' x 'Pat Garrity'
'Janice Brown' x 'Beautiful Edgings'
'Pat Garrity,' I hope, gives its offspring flatness and a giant red eye zone. I'm looking at 'Royal Renaissance,' 'Cosmic Sensation,' and 'Beautiful Edgings' to impart an awe-inspiring edge to their kids. The notion that my crosses will result in this greatness is wishful thinking (hence the Darwinian numbers game), but -- like the lottery -- you can't win if you don't play.
'Fooled Me' (Reilly-Hein 1990)
The month of June evaporated on me with unpredictable quickness, but July affords me more time to update you on the daylilies, the orchids and, of course, the kitties. Hello July!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Cosmic Sensation

It's daylily time! I know it's that time of year because I have a slew of mosquito bites. Do you remember the scene in "The Right Stuff" (1983) where the astronauts undergo a battery of tests? And do you remember how one of the tests entailed Sam Shepard being stabbed in the flesh between his thumb and forefinger to test his pain tolerance? Mosquitoes bites on the hands are not on the list of world problems, but maybe they should be. 

Enough mosquito talk... Some of the new cultivars I purchased are starting to show their stuff. So far, 'Cosmic Sensation' (Salter 2002) is my favorite. The white shark-toothed edge jumps off of the lush purple background. It's been a generous bloomer and the flowers are perfectly spaced on the top of the scape. 

'Pat Garrity' (Stamile 2002) is another standout. The gold is bright and clear, but the strengths of this flower are its flatness and huge red eye. "Flat" is a relative concept when it comes to daylilies and -- compared to hybridizing programs for many orchids -- it's not coveted as an important breeding goal. The red eye is impressive because, despite the size of the eye zone, the break between the gold and the red is clean and unmuddied.

Finally, here's a cultivar I bought at the Topeka Daylily Club annual sale ('Oklahoma Kicking Bird' by Marley, 1987). The bloom is gigantic! I'm not immediately drawn to spider-form and unusual-form daylilies, but this one might win me over.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Two for One

I've been working way too hard for June, so I'm behind on everything. I expect to emerge from the work tunnel sometime soon. Until then, here's a photo I've wanted to post for a few weeks. 

This is a Brachypetalum hybrid from Orchid Inn. It's Paph. Sabatino x Paph. S. Gratrix. More specifically, it's Paph. (Muriel Constance x Greyi) var. album x S. Gratrix var. album 'Albino Beauty.' Obviously, the albino thing didn't work out with this cross, but I still find it pretty. The dots on the bottom half of the petals are more faded and maybe that's the album trying to assert itself.

What do you think about the fold at the tops of the dorsal sepals? From the point of view of the flower, the hooded dorsal protects the pouch from unnecessary rain that could ruin the flower or drown a potential pollinator. From the point of view of section 7.1.7 of the AOS Judging Manual, "The dorsal sepal should be large, rounded, slightly concave and not reflexed." It definitely fails in the "rounded" department, but does the dorsal hoodie count as "slightly concave?" From Lan Lan's point of view the flower is super cute, and I tend to agree.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Kitty Purry

by Lan Lan

The sudden onslaught of Katy Perry in the Cats and Catts house has been difficult to endure. Brian can't stop playing her music, watching her videos, and reading her celebrity gossip. We're used to disco and house music around here, but the sight of a middle-aged man dancing around the house to "Teenage Dream" and "California Gurls" is slightly problematic. The other kitties urged me to do some research in order to mount a case against this pop music sensation.

My research led to some surprising findings. First, her tour included a list of requests that celebrity gossip websites have criticized as irrational. For instance, she wants hydrangeas, roses, peonies, and white roses in her waiting room. If these are unavailable, she wants white orchids. Carnations are strictly forbidden. This makes perfect sense and I can't imagine any of the other kitties disagreeing with me.

Kitty Purry, her cat, is a second Katy Perry detail that weighs in her favor. Kitty Purry seems like a modest cat despite her famous associations, and the photo of her in her shark bed is particularly fetching. Unlike many other celebrity pets, Kitty Purry appears central to her owner's life.

Hates carnations. Likes white orchids. Has an agreeable cat. What's not to love?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memphis Orchid Show 2011

Dtps. Sogo Domeni AM/AOS 'June'
The Memphis Orchid Show was fantastic and I was grateful to clerk during the ribbon judging and loiter during AOS judging. The clerking responsibilities in the morning required activity: hanging ribbons, weaving in and out of mobs of judging teams, writing things on the backs of ribbons, getting other people to write things on the backs of ribbons, and locating the next flower to be evaluated.

The AOS judging process, by contrast, requires passivity from those outside the AOS judging program (those who are not judges, probationary judges, or student judges). It's similar to kibitzing a bridge game. I wear my best blank look and crush any impulse to comment on anything. In Memphis, I could tell that some clerks enjoy kibitzing the AOS judging, but some looked bored by it or had difficulty with silence. The AOS flower discussions are spellbinding and the judgments have immediate effects in the orchid world. It's an alchemical act where the judging team calls the flower and/or plant into glory and prominence. It's celebrating the flower (and using feats of science and botanical genealogy). 

The judging team makes an initial decision to score the flower or plant. Then, they research relevant databases for the cultivar and its lineage. There's more discussion. Each member of the team evaluates the flower or plant on a 0-100 scale. The team passes the plant or flower to another judging team if their scores show an insurmountably wide point differential. If the team shows consensus, they write a judging description of the plant or flower.

You can read the AOS Judging Handbook to understand the considerations that go into orchid judging. Cats and Catts readers know that I find the orchid judging world captivating on multiple levels. At the Memphis Show, the art of writing a flower description jumped out at me as an especially important dimension of the judging process. The team I watched went back and forth, around and around, on color and shape descriptors. Are we looking at dots or spots? Are we looking at a red that looks like wine or rubies? Where do the adverbs go in the sentence? When does one use semicolons? 

Linguistic precision is important because these brief descriptions become the account of the flower (independent of its photo). Given the international scope of the orchid world it's essential to have clear descriptions that abide by discursive norms. They form a permanent record in the orchid databases AQ+ and OrchidWiz, so it's important to do a good job. I watched it with rapt interest, but I'm a little bit of a word nerd.

The remainder of the show and Mid-America Orchid Congress meeting was tons of fun. Between Orchid Babies and Orchid Inn, I showed remarkable restraint in the vendors’ area by walking away from far too many Brachypetalum hybrids. I was trying to be good. I dodged the Orchid Inn’s many temptations, including Phrag. Peruflora's Cirila AlcaBut my only failure, as I see it, was buying only one Paph. barbatum from the Orchid Inn table (I should have bought all of the Paph. barbatum Sam Tsui had for sale). Are these species normally so bright, so round, and so adorable? I love the white dorsal with the red and green linear elements. Maybe I need to buy a few more from Sam in order to satiate my barbatum needs. And my birthday isn't that far off. (Hey, I'm just thinking out loud here...)

I’ll post photos of my auction booty in the near future, but let me tell you about the trip home. Wow!

Paph. Wossner Goldball 'Jeanie's Dream' AM/AOS
The journey to and from the show reinforced my psychotic commitment to the orchid activity. The 19th century orchid hunters seem a little less brave after having gone what I went through to return home. I've driven all over the country, through ice and snow storms that would bench lesser drivers. Like a traffic ninja, I've navigated San Diego and Los Angeles freeways during the worst rush hours. I consider myself an experienced driver until last weekend.  

The drive home from Memphis was a frightening affair. I kept my radio on and, as I drove northward on I-55, the radio alerts told of multiple tornado warnings across the state. Broadcasters listed of counties and towns potentially getting hit. At first, it seemed like a string of meaningless names. Then, I start to read the aforementioned names on various signs and I knew I was in trouble.

Paph. Lucky Bells 'Gigantic' AM/AOS
I'm accustom to torrential downpours and loud thunder, but the wind gusts and the sheer volume of water dropping at every angle complicated matters. The heavy cloud storms had tornado potential, but there wasn't much to do but drive.  

Cars started to pull over to the side of the road. The ones that didn't pull over slowed to a crazy 40 mph on a normally frisky freeway. Hazard lights went on. More cars exited. The best situation, the radio boys explained, was to find an interior wall. That didn't help me at whatsoever. Exiting the freeway seemed to pose its own risks, so I locked my eyes on the hazard lights ahead of me and followed through, what seemed like, the Bonus Wash part of one of those drive-through car washes. The skies eventually cleared and my gut instinct to keep driving succeeded. All of this occurred during the same few hours that tornadoes ravaged Joplin. Selfishly, I was glad to be on the other side of the state during the worst tornado disaster in decades, but tornado systems covered all of Missouri that Sunday afternoon and my memory of the Joplin tragedy will be forever tied to my white-knuckled return from Memphis.

The crazy thing isn't the lengthy and difficult drive. The crazy thing is that I'd do it all again next weekend just to see the people and the flowers. And just because I only purchased three plants at the show (details coming soon) doesn't mean that the addiction is lessening. Stay tuned!