Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Orchid photos

I am an orchidist who takes pictures, not an orchid photographer. My camera is an Olympus C-740 with 3.2 megapixels with a maximum 2048 x 1636 resolution.

One of my goals early on was to take decent pictures of individual flowers. As a beginner, I had trouble finding good pictures that I could compare to plants I had.

One search for photos that drove me nuts was when I tried to identify the Colmanara Wildcat varieties. It seemed that so many photos on the interweb are miss-labeled that I had trouble feeling confident in the identification.

I have to admit that I have become a bit compulsive about orchid identification. I have a few plants in the greenhouse that are unidentified. When one of these blooms I try to take a clear picture that will make identification possible.

The other reason for pictures is pride. I like to show off my orchids and post pictures on them on my website.

For some flowers there was no problem. I took them outside, found a good background in the right direction for the sun and snapped. Others were quite a challenge.

If you have an Oncidium Twinkle you will appreciate this photo. The flowers are small. It took three separate sessions and 30 to 40 pictures to get this one. I would snap a few, download them and open them in Photoshop. Finally I got one I liked that would be big enough on the screen (432px wide) and showing the details of the flower.

Every time I see the picture it makes me happy.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Orchid tags are important to me.

I got this plant about a year and a half ago. It was on the opportunity table at San Francisco. I collect Encyclia and it was a species name I knew I didn't have so I picked it up.

As plant tags go this one is perfectly readable. There was nothing I thought I was guessing about except where the award came from. Yet when I tried to find "Enc laterace" on there was nothing at all.

Ok, not unheard-of but unusual. adds species all the time and of course there is the whole Genus renaming situation to keep up with.

I looked at the species name and thought it looked odd. Perhaps it is a hybrid even though the first letter is lower case. Quite a common error. I checked the Royal Horticultural Society. Again nothing. The same for a straight Google.

It sat for a year in the greenhouse. I didn't add it to the collection inventory since plants must be identified for that. It bloomed and the inflorescence came from the base of mature pseudobulbs. I decided it wasn't an Encyclia at all.

I finally identified the plant when I got another one in trade. As soon as I saw the plant I knew they were the same, expecially with the "Emerald Gardens" name.

What happened? I don't know for sure. The only thing that makes sense is that the plant my division was taken from had an unreadable tag and the owner made their best guess when writing the new tag.

Epidendrum laterale grows in Costa Rica and Panama and into Colombia. It grows very tropical in humid, warm to hot conditions at low elevations. It is fragrant and the flowers are reasonably long lasting.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Mounted Oncidium onustum

Oncidium onustum grows from Mexico to Ecuador and Peru. It is warm to hot growing and needs a complete dry winter rest from after blooming until new growth starts.

I got this division from a friend just about two months ago. At that time it had no roots but now it has a single green-tipped root growing along the pseudobulb rather randomly. The root needs guidance and I provided it by mounting the plant. The root will grow toward the moisture in the small amount of sphagnum on the cork.

Oncidiums do well in cultivation but have one interesting quality. Each new growth is higher than the last. It quite literally climbs up trees this way. This is the reason I mounted this extra low on the piece of cork.

In a pot I leave room for two years growth. On a mount I usually plan for about five years. I try to find a balance between having bare-looking bark and having to re-mount the plant too soon.

One other thing to point out about mounts in general that I got wrong at first. The new growth goes next to the cork. The plant attaches roots much better. It is much more attractive as time passes if mounted toward the bark.

The plant is attached with two loops of fishing line, one below the plant and one around the rhizome. I like this method because the plant is held firmly without being unsightly.

The sphagnum has been trimmed a little and I will trim it again in the spring.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


A very useful website Intergeneric Orchid Hybrid Abbreviations. Many tags have abbreviations and unfamiliar ones sometimes leave me baffled. I come here as a first step to figuring out what conditions the plant wants.

If you hang around orchids for awhile you start to learn some of these abbreviations but nobody knows them all. There are hundreds!

This website seems to be up to date but I am not sure who maintains it. It is very helpful.

UPDATE: This site is no longer available.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Steno what?

That was my first reaction when I saw this plant at the Sonoma County Orchid Society party last night. I wasn't even sure it was an orchid. Shows you what I know about orchids.

When I got the plant home I tried to look it up. After a little "interpretation" of the plant tag I found it. Live and learn.

The genus Stenorrhynchos contains 30 species spread throughout the tropical Americas. In reading through the list of species, I see that this genus has been extensively re-classified.

Stenorrhynchos speciosum is a terrestrial growing at higher elevations in the Andes from French Guiana to Argentina. From the description I am going to give it moderate light and even moisture.

I always like to learn about a new genus, and the party was very nice. There were door prizes and a gift exchange. Lots of orchids changed hands last night and I got to talk to several people that I didn't know well.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Finishing a mount

There are a few different methods of attaching a plant to a cork mount. I'll show you the one I like best. It does the basic job of holding the plant completely still in relation to the cork and looks pretty good right away.

This summer, after it bloomed, I took half of my Epidendrum peperomia plant off of its treefern and made it into small divisions. Now I'm taking the largest piece to mount on cork.

I laid the plant on the mount and position it. Then I mark and drill four holes. I will attach the plant to the cork with fishing line running across the rhizome at two points.

The 3/16 inch holes may seem large, but I have learned the hard way what size I need to be able to thread the fishing line. In addition, I don't have to change drill bits. NOTE: Be sure that the holes don't cross inside the bark.

Have a little moist sphagnum moss available. And I do mean "a little". I am providing a cushion for the plant, not potting it. A few strands will be enough.

The order of placement is first a couple of strands of sphagnum moss through the loops, then the plant, then another strand at the points where the fishing line crosses the rhizome.

I gently tighten the line across the rhizome and tie in back with a single knot is looped under twice. That will hold just enough tension so that I don't need a finger on it while finish a square knot and trim the ends in back.

The final touch is to trim any loose sphagnum to make a mice neat appearance.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Epidendrum peperomia divisions

The genus Epidendrum contains 1000 known species through out tropical Americas and the Caribbean. Extremely varied. It is kind of the default genus for orchids.

Epidendrum peperomia grows from Nicaragua to Ecuador in pine and oak forests. Cool to warm growing, low light. AKA Neolehmannia porpax.

The plant does well mounted and it is often seen on treefern. It forms a thick mat which is covered with flowers when it blooms. It can bloom any time of year but mine likes summer.

This summer, after it bloomed, I took half of my collection plant off of the treefern and made it into small divisions. I put them in the saucer shown in the picture to grow them a bit before mounting.

The 8 1/2 inch clay saucer has had a small hole drilled in it to keep water from standing in it. Then there is a thin layer of pea gravel and a thin layer of sphagnum moss.

The 10 small pieces of peperomia were spread around the saucer in a pizza-like pattern and another layer of loose sphagnum moss was added. I placed the saucer in fairly low light where it could get wet regularly. This plant wants even watering during the summer growing season and a little dryer in winter.

I checked the plants today and all of them have formed new roots and have grown. Three of them are large enough to mount as separate plants and I will do that later today.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Cold today

Today was a day in which the overnight temperature sank to 32 degrees and the daytime high was 59 degrees, a degree less than the thermostat in the greenhouse is set.

The greenhouse remained closed up all day. I had intended to do some work but there is very little space inside. My work area is just outside the door and I didn't want to let the warmth that built up to get out. Inside it got up to 70 degrees late in the afternoon.

I decided that a post without a picture would be too boring, so here is Bulbophyllum lobbii 'Winter'.

Bulbophyllum lobbii grows in Borneo, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines above 2000 feet. Warm to hot growing and fragrant.

Friday, December 5, 2008

How many rounds of rescue can a plant stand?

The genus Laelia About 60 species from Mexico through South America. They are highly varied.

Laelia anceps grows in Mexico and Honduras. It is warm to hot growing and needs a dry winter rest and bright light. If it is dry it can winter outside if there is no hard freeze.

This is a very weak lead that was badly potted and lost all the roots it developed. Two previous rescue attempts failed before I got the plant and it didn't look to strong to begin with. This will be a challenge as a third round rescue.

Still, there is a good chance that this plant will recover. Laelia and Cattleya are very hardy. A grower friend who specializes in Cattleya and Laelia ties a tag to the plants and adds them to a pile. Every once in awhile he checks them.

I am very interested in saving this plant. It is Laelia anceps 'Sea God' and is a division of a plant from the Raymond Burr collection. I haven't seen what the flower looks like, but the plant is interesting from a local history standpoint alone.

The plant is now in with the other backbulbs supported by limestone chunks and with the pot sitting on wet sphagnum moss for just a hint of moisture.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

More about the greenhouse.

If you can walk through your greenhouse in a straight line and without ducking, you don't have enough orchids. This is the view from outside the door on the south side.

I sometimes envy those with neat benches
and nice rows of similar sized pots. A greenhouse where you can measure the light an know that it applies to the whole quadrant.

Not in my greenhouse. It's a jungle in there. Every orchid has its own micro climate, as close to what it needs as I can figure out.

My top light level is 4000+ footcandles. The top of the greenhouse is full of hanging plants and mounts so everything is shaded by at least a couple of other plants. Here is a view looking west along the aisle on the north side. Looks as if you would need a machete to get through.

Watering is overhead sprayers.
There are about 20 2-gallon per hour heads that run for two minutes early in the day. It is very rain-like. In summer they run once a day and winter once a week with manual runs as needed.

Cooling is from overhead foggers. These cover the same area and run on a thermostat and timer combination. The highest temperature I ever see in there is 92.

Almost all the potted plants are in some kind of rock. As you can immagine, this is a very wet environment and any other potting medium would kill most orchids.

The greenhouse is pretty interesting to manage. It is not optimal for most of my orchids, but I can grow a pretty broad range by placing it properly.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Winter watering

Winter watering has been in effect for awhile. That means I have to load up the pump sprayer and hand water those plants that need even watering and let the winter-resters be dry.

I get spoiled in the summer. Watering is fully automatic. There is a base amount of watering with additional watering based on humidity and temperature. I repot, take flower pictures and enjoy the orchids. Sometimes even breaking out in song. Summertime, and the livin' is easy.

The last two weeks, what with the holiday and all, I have been lazy about the watering. I think about it but put it off.

Yesterday I decided to take some greenhouse pictures to post and looked at the Masdevallias in particular. They are very much in decline at the very time they should be perking up. They need regular watering.

I am sure I have other plants that are starting in decline but the Masds are showing it quicker.

No greenhouse pictures today. I will be out in the greenhouse making sure that the wet and dry orchids are properly separated and that the watering is done.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Shipping and Handling

I have been selling and trading by mail for a couple of years. I like doing it that way and it has gone smoothly with one exception, that being the first time I tried.

My first sale was a real growth opportunity. The most important lesson was get the shipping box first, THEN sell.

I did pretty much everything wrong. I used a box that was too small, I didn't use enough packing material and I shipped into cold weather. Bottom line, the plant froze and I refunded the money while losing a future customer.

I have some advice. Open an account with and shop for supplies there. There are many free items, but the most important is strong priority mail boxes.

I keep two sizes around the house that work for almost all my plants. For larger plants I have a roll of Priority Mail labels to make any box into priority mail. These are all free.

The first is the Priority Mail Shoe Box (7.5 X 5.125 X 14.375). This is the one I use most often. The second is Priority Mail Box O-BOX4 (7" x 7" x 6"). Browse the site, you will find some other useful boxes and supplies.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Coelogyne mooreana backbulbs

The genus Coelogyne contains 100 species found in all of Asia east of India and Indonesia and Fiji. Conditions vary considerably.

Coelogyne mooreana grows in Vietnam in high mountain cloud forests. It is fragrant and blooms in spring and early summer on immature growth. It is an easy grower and a nice addition to any collection.

A few months ago I bought a quite large plant that was in serious need of repotting. It produced about a dozen nice plants.

In addition to the divisions there were a bunch of backbulbs. Some of them were single pseudobulbs with a leaf and good prospects for recovery. I shared these with friends for postage plus a dollar.

This left a half dozen hard-core backbulbs. They had no leaf and no roots and no visible eyes. I put these into a hanging pot with sphagnum around them as fluffy as possible. I hung it in the wettest part of the greenhouse.

This is that pot today. A couple of them sprouted right away and are now separately potted. One is totally dead and one group is dying but has sprouted. That one will be tricky to transition.

That leaves two sprouting and one yet to decide about sprouting or dying.

This Coelogyne and the two are all high altitude wet growing plants. They responded to sphagnum and wet conditions.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Myoxanthus lonchophyllus rescue

The genus Myoxanthus contains 40 species of small to large Pleurothallis-like plants. They do well mounted. Who knows why they are not Pleuros.

Myoxanthus lonchophyllus grows in mountain rain forests in Brazil above 3000 feet. It is cool to warm growing and should be fed and watered all year. It blooms any time of the year.

I have had my plant about six months. I got is at the same time as the Pleurothallis excelsa and it was in even worse shape, just a tangle of rootless rhizome with a couple of leaves. I broke it into nine pieces and spread them around the greenhouse in pots.

One nice feature of this plant is that it blooms on previously bloomed leaves. One of the pieces bloomed and I was able to get a flower picture.

This is one of the pieces that had leaves. It was potted in pea gravel with a sphagnum top dressing.

The new growth is right against the side of the 2-inch pot. I will be able to watch the roots develop which is always exciting.

I will leave this alone until it needs re-potting. At that point I may mount it.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Pleurothallis excelsa rescue

The genus Pleurothallis contains more than 1000 species growing in all parts of the subtropical and tropical Americas. There are very diverse plant forms and culture requirements from moss-like plants to large ranging plants of several feet in height. I have ten species in my collection.

Pleurothallis excelsa grows in Colombia and Ecuador above 5000'. It is cool growing, blooming in winter and spring on spikes arching as much as 2' long.

I have had my plant about six months. This is what it looked like when I got it. There were no roots, just a rhizome with four really bad looking leaves. Need I mention that it was free?

The picture was taken after the dead roots were cleaned off and the plant was in a 3-inch pot. There are a few pieces of limestone in the bottom and sphagnum moss very loosely packed around the plant.

I was just guessing about how to treat this plant. Here was a case where looking up where the plant grew was very helpful. I put it with my other Pleurothallis plants and hoped for the best. Once having made the decision, I resisted the urge to change anything. Orchids don't like changes.

It has worked out well. Four beautiful new leaves have grown, each larger than the last. I am going to leave it alone through the blooming season. I don't know if it has the strength to bloom but I am going to allow at least one spike so that I can get a flower picture.

I will re-evaluate the plant in spring. I may leave it in this pot for another year. Maybe not. I REALLY want a look at the roots and to get rid of the last two old leaves.

Friday, November 28, 2008

More on building mounts

I break the bark to the size I want and drill a hole about 3/4 inch from the top. More about sizes later.

Twelve gauge utility wire is great stuff. It is strong and keeps its shape well yet it can be bent without any special tools.

I cut off a piece about a foot long. I have a place marked I can use to measure or I do it by eye. I don't try to be precise. Erring by cutting a little longer than I need is better that a little too short.

There is a bend to the wire from being spooled so I more or less straighten that out. Almost straight is good enough. Then I make a sharp 90 degree bend in it about half way.

I push one end of the wire through the hole from the back until the bend is right aginst the bark. I hold the wire so that it is pointing straight up and hard against the bark. I bend the wire coming out or the front straight up and tight to the front of the bark.

One more bend by hand so that the wire on the front of the bark is tight to the top of the bark and runs right past the wire coming up the back. Being right handed, I run it past the left side.

It is easier to trim the wire now than after the next bend. The front wire will wrapping tightly around the front wire. It is fairly easy to see how long the wire will need to be for that.

The last bend that attaches the wire and the bark needs the pliers. I wrap the wire tightly around. We don't want any space on top or any wiggle of the wire.

One final bend to form the hook. I use 3/4 inch PVC pipe for that. I don't go too close to the bark, that makes it hard to hang. One final trim if necessary and I am done.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Building mounts

My project for the weekend is to build some cork bark mounts. I use quite a few of these and it is a hassle to have a plant ready to mount and to have to stop and build the mount. It is not so hard, but I have to get out tools and clear space.

This Dendrobium loddigesii mount is typical of the mounts I do. This was done a couple of months ago. I expect to sell or trade it next year after it has grown some more and attached roots firmly.

I have a battery-powered drill for the greenhouse in addition to the one on my workbench in the garage. I keep a 3/16 drill bit in it all the time. This is the right size for the wire and also makes threading the fishing line used to attach the plant easier.

I use the same 12 gauge galvanized single strand wire for all my mounts of any size. I have tried other sizes and thinner wire for small mounts. This wire works for any size and forms a hook on top that can stand the pulling that sometimes happens.

The size of the wire cutters is important. I have three of various sizes and have tried to use all of them at various times. I finally bought a dedicated pair of cutters for this wire. Using smaller cutters is just too hard and I hate searching for tools.

More about building mounts tomorrow. It is simple enough, but there are a few things to consider. I didn't do it well until I was shown how.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fall watering

The picture shows the leaf on a new growth. It got wet and didn't dry before night. This plant will survive but a couple of other plants in the greenhouse died.

There are seven reasons to water less. The two most important are when there is less light and when temperatures are lower.

The positioning of my greenhouse is such that for a time as the sun moves south it goes behind a tree. The hours of sunlight on the greenhouse are reduced. I know this, yet it always seems to come as a surprise when I notice it.

If I were smart I would mark on my calendar the date in fall that it starts and the date in spring when it ends. I can't do that because I didn't notice.

I am not that smart about temperature either. I turn on the heater when the night temperatures start to go into the 40s, and the thermostat is set at 60 degrees, so I tend to think of the greenhouse as warmer, not colder.

"Cold" is not only the minimum temperature but also the whole amount of warmth available. The average temperature drops in fall even if the minimum temperature is higher.

The automatic watering is completely off. Now I am watering by hand with a pump sprayer, keeping water off the leaves.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Madagascar continued

What else do I have that will never bloom because I have no Madagascar micro climate? Luckily I keep notes on where my orchids grow so I can check easily.

Aerangis articulata grows in Madagascar and Comoran. Warm to hot growing, fragrant, grows best mounted. Blooms in the fall.

There may be hope for this one. I have had it a full year and it has grown well. On the other hand, fall is almost over and there is no sign of a spike.

I see this flowered in San Francisco. Although they are only 40 miles away they have a whole different humidity level and temperature gradient.

Angraecum sesquipedale is hot growing and needs consistent warm temperatures and even watering. It has large, fragrant flowers.

I have had one for three full years and what has happened is that buds form and then blast.

This is a mature plant, the 'Orchidglade II' FCC/AOS that is easily available here. I got it at POE in bloom. Last year it may have been warm enough but the leaves got hard and a local grower diagnosed light stress. I have it in the same location with a piece of 50% shade cloth over it.

Whew! That's it. I'll give them another year, then sell or trade them. I need the space for plants I can bloom.

Monday, November 24, 2008

An orchid I can't grow? Please!

The genus Cymbidiella contains 3 species from Madagascar. They need constant hot, humid conditions with lots of water year round and good drainage similar to growing a Phaius.

I have a Cymbidiella rhodochila. The correct name is pardalina but it is better know as rhodochila. It needs regular watering and fertilizer year round.

I got the plant from a raffle table. It was small and I and had little to choose from. I took it home and repotted it. Then I read up on it to see where to put it in the greenhouse.

An article I found about the genus says that the culture of Cymbidiella is not difficult and then goes on describe the ways in which they are difficult.

The first thing I read was that they hated to have their roots disturbed. Oops! Too late to avoid that. What next? Never let them go below 59 degrees. Strike two! Anything else?

I didn't see it right away and then it hit me. They described it as a larger plant than I had. I had a seedling! Strike three!

There is no place in the greenhouse that has a climate like Madagascar. Last winter I brought it into the house for a few months and it grew some but probably had too little light to bloom.

Summer is a problem in the greenhouse too. With the heater off the temperature can go down into the lower 50s and once in awhile the upper 40s.

The soup man says "No Cymbidiella rhodochila flowers for you!"

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Meters in the greenhouse

There are three things that are important to know about an orchid-growing environment: temperature, light level and humidity. These cannot be judged well without the use of meters.

Since my greenhouse is close to my home, I can use an inexpensive remote thermometer. It has a reliable range of 50 feet. It can read from three remote sensors, but I only use one. The primary information I need from it is whether the heater is on and how hot the greenhouse is getting in the daytime.

The primary reason that orchids don't bloom is not enough light. The human eye is especially bad at judging light. While being able to adapt to a range of light levels is good in most cases, it doesn't serve well in the greenhouse.

There are two models of inexpensive light meters: one with a separate sensor and one with the sensors in the top. I have had both and prefer the meter with the built-in sensors. It can be operated with one hand and is much less directional, both better traits for working in the greenhouse. The total amount of light on the leaf is more important than light from the brightest direction.

Greenhouses have microclimates. Even with three fans moving the air there is a wide variation. To monitor them and help with plant placement I have three of inexpensive thermometer-hygrometer sets in different parts of the greenhouse. These are not very accurate but they are consistent.

I took them apart and placed them side-by side for an hour, then I set them so they read the same as the remote sensor and the same as each other for humidity. They have lasted very well and can be in locations where they get wet.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Some rescues are my own fault

Masdevallia princeps grows in central Peru near Tarapoto. It needs cold conditions and low light. Flowers bloom consecutively and a well grown plant will have several flowers open all the time.

The genus Masdevallia contains 350 species and are found from southern Mexico to the southern Andes. They are cold to cool growing and can be in a seedling mix or sphagnum. Almost impossible to over-water.

Almost impossible to over-water but it can be done. I know, I have done it. This particular plant was quite large and had 5 spikes when I bought it. The next year it had 4 more.

This summer I decided to divide the plant. It was plenty large and I could see 3 distinct clumps of growth. I cut off the spikes and pulled it out of the pot.

I was shocked! The top of the plant looked good but underneath it had no roots.

The only thing to do was to move ahead. I made the three divisions and potted them. Two were in a small sphagnum wrap in a pot full of pea gravel and the third was in plain pea gravel.

That was four months ago. I checked the divisions this morning and two of them are just now showing signs of new growth.

This brings me to the other reason to know about backbulbs and rescues. To know how to recover from my own mistakes. In this case the mistake was not replacing the sphagnum moss because the plant was in bloom.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hanging flowers

Stanhopea embreei grows in western Ecuador in shaded cloud orests. It is cold to warm growing, fragrant, and blooms in spring and early summer.

The genus Stanhopea contains 55 species growing from Mexico, through Central America and South America. These are rarely seen at show and tell because the flowers are short-lived.

I have five different Stanhopea species. I didn't spend any significant money on any of them. I have fun with them, trying different things.

The Stanhopea embreei was a seedling from a raffle table. After I cleaned it I saw that it was pretty two-dimensional, that the pseudobulbs were in a line. Although I have never seen a Stanhopea mounted on cork, I went for it and it turned out really well, blooming the first year.

The Stanhopea jenischiana was another seedling. In this case I took this Cymbidium pot and inverted a small clay pot on top. I spread the roots over a pad of sphagnum moss. Then I started to wrap fishing line around, adding sphagnum as I went. As the plant develops I am hoping that the spikes will extend below the lip of the Cymbidium pot.

The Stanhopea tigrina is my "Stanhope-on-a-rope". I got it as a mature plant in a 6-inch basket. After a year, the basket was filled with roots. I raised it up by added sphagnum on the bottom. In another year the plant was growing through the gaps in the basket.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Laelia anceps

Laelia anceps grows in Mexico and Honduras. It is warm to hot growing and needs a dry winter rest and bright light. If it is dry it can winter outside if there is no hard freeze.

The genus Laelia contains about 60 species from Mexico through South America. They are highly varied. Just by looking at them you can't tell them apart from Cattleya.

I have eight varieties of Laelia anceps. I didn’t set out to collect them particularly. In fact, one guideline I have is to own only one of a species. But the beautiful, long lasting flowers call out to me. The variety of shapes and colors are wonderful.

Laelia anceps is not a good candidate for indoor growing. The plants themselves are large and the spikes are very long. Even in my greenhouse with its 9-foot ceilings, I have to watch the top on the spikes as they develop and be ready to move the plant to a lower hanger. At the end of each spike there is a group of fragrant flowers each four inches wide.

'Rare' is an over-used word in the orchid world. None of my Laelia anceps plants are rare. The 'Bolder Valley', however, is a little bit special. This plant is a division of the plant exhibited by Pat Trumble of Boulder, Colorado, which was awarded the HCC by the AOS in 1983.

Even with the size of the plants and the length of the spikes, I find them well worth the space. I just may have gone a bit overboard having as many plants as I do, but having flowers open all winter is very nice.

If you have the space and really bright light, I recommend getting one for your collection. You will be glad you did.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How I started

While on our Honeymoon in Hawaii, Dianne and I visited a grower. We were enchanted and had 2 dendrobium "50th state" plants shipped to us at home. That was a start, but what got me excited about orchids, was that one of them re-bloomed.

This plant did not re-bloom because I took such good care of it. I had it sitting on my desk at work in a convenient location under some florescent lights. It got water irregularly and no feeding. My theory is that the plant figured that it was going to die soon, so it had better put out a couple of flowers soon, or the species would face extinction. It put out a spike with 3 blooms.

That got my interest, and I went to a class at our Rec center here in Napa. I learned "weakly weekly" and lots of other bits of useful orchid information from Debra Atwood at Napa Valley Orchids. I took more classes and eventually was the assistant instructor.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

My Greenhouse

My greenhouse is just outside my back door. It was constructed by enclosing part of my patio cover. This picture was taken just before I started moving in my plants.

Up to this time I had been an indoor grower. One of my bedrooms was the orchid room with a full array of shelves, lights and humidity trays. During the summer months I moved most of the plants outside. But as the summer was coming to an end I could see I was going to have a problem.

The number of orchids in the collection had grown. I had too many to bring back into the house for the winter. I realized that I had to decide if I was a serious orchid hobbyist and build a greenhouse or scale back considerably and be a windowsill grower.

The greenhouse is set up to take care of itself. It has water, electricity and natural gas. There is a heater, an exhaust fan, four air circulation fans, and both watering and misting. It is a manageable size, 9' wide x 12' long x 9' high. The walls are recycled windows and are vertical. The roof is a double layer of fiberglass with an air space between. There are dowels for hanging plants over the whole roof area.

The minumum temperature in winter is 60 degrees, the minimum humidity 45% and maximum temperature 90 degrees. Exposure is north, west and south. Light level tops out at 4000 foot candles with areas shaded down to 2000.

I have a great setup with with automatic watering and temperature control. I can be away and know the plants will be alive when I get back. I visit the orchids daily and watch each development with interest. At the same time care is minimal. I enjoy the plants and putter without the maintenance becoming tedious.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I believe species advice - NOW

Oncidium ampliatum grows in Central America and northern South America in hot lowland areas. It blooms from the fall into spring. It doesn't like to have its roots disturbed.

The genus Oncidium contains 600 species from throughout Central America and South America. They grow in a wide variety of environments. If you know a little about where the species grows, the do very well in cultivation.

An orchid friend gave this to me after having no success getting it to bloom or even grow well. The plant had declined to a single pseudobulb. It was potted in bark so I re-potted it in rock. I pot just about everything in rock.

The first year it did pretty well. It didn't bloom but it put out a new growth. I asked a local grower I know about its culture and got advice about water, light and temperature. She also told me that it doesn't like to have its roots disturbed.

Did I listen? You know the answer to that. I re-potted the plant during the new growth period because there wasn't room in the pot for it. The new growth promptly died.

I was tempted to toss it out. At that time I didn't have any other Oncidiums. Instead, I put it under the bench on the edge of the growing area and promptly forgot about it.

Last week I was doing a plant inspection and noticed the pot. At first glance I thought the pot was empty because the pseudobulbs look like mossy rocks. I pulled it out and was amazed how well it had done with no help at all from me.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Rescue plants can grow in the wrong season

Oncidium onustum grows from Mexico to Ecuador and Peru. It is warm to hot growing and needs a complete dry winter rest from after blooming until new growth starts.

The genus Oncidium contains 600 species from throughout Central America and South America. They grow in a wide variety of environments. If you know a little about where the species grows, the do very well in cultivation.

An orchid friend and I were puttering in her greenhouse looking for plants to repot or bugs; generally having a good time chatting. She has three divisions of this plant and two of them were blooming. This one didn't look so good so we pulled it out of the pot to check the roots.

There were no live roots at all on the plant. It had lost them due to over watering and the division was too small, just a single pseudobulb. Earlier in the year it had started a new growth, but the roots growing from that were also dead.

All this occurred about a month ago. My intent was to look the up the plant and they put it in the backbulb section of my greenhouse. I didn't do this right away. I put the unpotted plant on my desk and promptly forgot about it.

I finally decided to take care of the nagging guilt I got every time I sat at my desk to take care of something else. I picked it up for a close inspection and saw that the new growth was trying to get restarted. There was a single, short, green-tipped root!

Now I have a new problem. The other Oncidium onustum plants will be starting the dry winter rest soon. Does being rootless count as dry winter rest? Is it in a new growth state out of season?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Some hybrids are also part of my collection

One of my favorite orchids is this Blc 'Sundance'. I got it several years ago at a society show and sale and it has been blooming for two years.

At about the same time as I bought this plant I had been taking some classes in orchid culture. One of the subjects was mounting. Some of the examples were spectacular table mounts like the one below.

The teacher warned us about using driftwood from the ocean. I didn't have any driftwood of any sort, so I went to a pet store. I bought two pieces, one of which is the wood shown above. They were kind of expensive. I wouldn't recommend pet stores as a big source, but I thought it was worth it to have something to work with.

I put a thin pad of sphagnum on the top of the wood and spread out the roots. I had a bowl of sphagnum moss handy as I started to wind 5-pound fishing line around and around. Every time the line crossed a root I added a strand of sphagnum as a cushion. I ended up with about 20 turns of fishing line.

After a couple of years the plant was firmly anchored with the lovely roots speading and I started cutting the fishing line. By then all the sphagnum had disappaeared. Then last year it bloomed. It bloomed again this year.

I only have two table mounts in my collection now. I love table mounts, they can be very impressive. But they take up a lot of space and I am short on space. I am not planning any new mounts of this type but Blc 'Sundance' has a place in my collection for as long as it wants.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Why I repot all new orchids

Almost exactly a month ago I bought a Bulbophyllum laxiflorum. It was a species I didn't have and the plant looked healthy and dividable. All the pseudobulbs were plump and there was a spike just starting to form. The picture was taken shortly after I got the plant.

This week the flowers opened and I was able to get a flower picture that I was satisfied with. Time to repot!

The plant was in a 4" clay pot and sphagnum moss. Underneath the sphagnum were a few foam peanuts. The sphagnum was a little broken down but not in bad shape.

I took the plant out to the hose and washed it clean. I had expected to find lots of roots to untangle. I found almost none. With minimal roots this becomes a rescue plant. Not an extreme case I grant you, but it could become one soon enough.

I unwound the plant, traced the rhizomes and divided it. The result was 5 distinct plants each with a lead and at least 3 pseudobulbs.

The pieces are still together. I set up a community pot for them where they will remain until there is new growth. Then I can decide between mounting and potting, and what medium to use.

The community pot is an 8" clay saucer. I drilled a small hole in the bottom so that water won't pool in it. I added a layer of pea gravel and placed the pieces of the plant around the space. Finally, I added a layer of loose sphagnum top dressing.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I don't sphag and bag my orchids

Many people swear by the sphag and bag method for orchid rescues, but I have never got the hang of it. I end up with either rot or no sprouting at all.

My understanding of sphag and bag is that a small amount of barely moist sphagnum is placed in a sealed bag with the backbulb so that 100% humidity can be maintained.

I have been working based on the theory that re-creating natural conditions is the key to orchid culture. I have tried to use it for tropical orchids that live in low altitudes. Possibly I am not using it on the right orchids.

I do use moist sphagnum for many of my backbulbs but not sealed up in a bag. I use it as a top dressing or loose around a backbulb. Often a pad of sphagnum in the bottom of a clay pot works well.

The best method I have found is simply proping the backbulb up in limestone, lava pieces or pea gravel and applying patience. Orchids are survivors and will regrow roots given half a chance.