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.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cattleya loddigesii 'Blue Sky' AM/AOS?

Cattleya loddigesii grows in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. It is fragrant, cool to warm growing and can grow in sunlight. The flowers are long lasting and blooming is in late summer.

The genus Cattleya contains 53 species from tropical South America. They do best in a medium that has good drainage and dry between watering. Give them a sort dryer rest after blooming.

I got this plant about three months ago. It was one of a group of free plants donated to our orchid society to finish clearing a greenhouse. There was no tag in the pot.

Near the pot on the table was a tag for "Cattleya loddigesii 'Blue Sky' AM/AOS" and there were no plants nearby that could be a Cattleya or Laelia. So I picked up the tag and the pot and I am treating them as a pair. The identification is probably correct, but still tentative until it blooms.

I unpotted the plant and inspected the roots. I make it a practice to do that for all new plants unless there is a specific reason not to. I will let a plant in bloom finish, for example.

The top of the plant looked fine but the roots did not. I cleaned and sprayed the plant, then divided it. I put the divisions in limestone chunks and put them in a dry, lower light area of the greenhouse.

Now new growth has started and new roots will follow shortly. I'll keep an eye on them and try to resist the temptation to start watering.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Small white flowers are hard to photograph

Bulbophyllum laxiflorum grows throughout Southeast Asia. It is warm to hot growing, very tropical. The flowers are fragrant and can occur any time of the year. A group of flowers radiate from the end of the spike forming a starburst effect.

The genus Bulbophyllum contains 1500 species found in all tropical areas on earth.

I got this plant a month ago at the member sale table at the Sonoma County Orchid Society. It was a very healthy plant filling the pot and it had a flower spike.

This week the flowers opened. I make it a point to take photos of all my plants and their flowers. While this for documentation purposes rather than artistic, I like to have attractive pictures and I want the flower picture to show the shape of a single flower.

The flowers are just over 1/2 inch wide and are white. I know from experience that small white flowers are difficult to shoot, so I took several photos. After I downloaded those and looked at them, I took a bunch more.

This is the best of all those but I am not totally happy with the flower definition. I plan to take at least one more group of photos before making a final choice for the "official" flower picture.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Pacific Orchid Exposition - POE

The Pacific Orchid Exposition is the largest show west of the Mississippi and my personal favorite. It will be held Thursday, March 5, 2009 through Sunday, March 8, 2009 at Fort Mason in San Francisco.

Every year I volunteer for something to help out. I started with the plant hotel and then ribbon judging. I am thinking of adding something else this year, possibly helping to set up one of the displays.

Ribbon judging is hard work but very rewarding. It takes place Thursday afternoon and is in addition to the AOS judging that is going on at the same time. Ribbon judges don't have to have any special knowlege since each group of judges of headed by a real judge. Every time I participate I learn more.

The opening Gala is in the evening following the judging. The price of admission gets you wine sampling, food and music, and of course, first shot at buying orchids. There is plenty of everything, and as the saying goes, a good time was had by all.

The only caution I might make is not to expect to make dinner out of the food. I did that the first year, and now I bring a sack lunch. There is lots of food, but the range is fairly narrow. And the lines for the food can get pretty long. Delicious, but not dinner. Plan to eat your main meal either before coming or after. That way you can enjoy the festivities much more.

My favorite time to shop is Friday morning at 10:am. Last year I did about $250 worth a damage to my credit card in less than 15 minutes. I had my purchases all scoped out and was ready to go. I made my purchases and then was off to my post at the plant hotel.

Some people wait until Sunday to shop, hoping for bargains. It is true that there are vendors who would rather clear the tables than pack it all up, but I find that the plants have been well picked over by then. Also, there are many, many more people on Sunday than on Friday.

I hope you can come to POE this year. It is a real experience. Even if you don't plan to buy anything the displays are wonderful and the window shopping in the vendor section will will have you drooling.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Over dividing orchids as a strategy

Bulbophyllum caudatum grows in north-east India, Nepal and Sikkim. It is cool to warm growing and does well mounted. It blooms in late spring.

The genus Bulbophyllum contains 1500 species found in all tropical areas on earth.

When a plant is seriously overgrown I have found that over dividing is a good strategy. I have tried breaking overgrown plants into larger pieces but for me the result has been root loss at the next repotting.

If it is not possible to open up the roots and clean the plant properly I take my clippers and start cutting. I work slowly, trying not to get carried away. Even so, I will end up with small groups of backbulbs that have no lead.

That's what happened with this Bulbophyllum caudatum. The roots were closely intertwined and very difficult to separate. There were long sections of rhizome connected backbulbs. They have been placed in a community pot until new growth starts.

This type of community pot is one I have had good results with for many small plants. It is a saucer that has had a hole drilled, then covered with a layer of pea gravel and another of sphagnum moss. After the pieces are placed on the moss I usually add a little more sphagnum around the pieces.

Saturday, November 8, 2008 to the rescue

Epigeneium nakaharaei grows in Taiwan in the central mountain range. It is cool to warm growing, fragrant and blooms in the fall and winter. It needs bright light.

The genus Epigeneium contains 35 species in Southeast Asia and the Philippines. They do well mounted and like warm, humid and shady conditions.

I know all this because I looked it up on This wonderful website run as a labor of love by Jay Pfahl is my "go-to" source for orchid species information.

When I won this plant from the raffle table at the San Francisco Orchid Society this week I had no idea what the "Epig" on the tag stood for. What I did know was that I had an opportunity to get acquainted with a new genus and species of orchid.

As soon as I got home I went to to look for it, and there it was.

I use all the time. I link to it for supplementary information and use it as my main orchid species reference. When Jay started offering subscriptions a couple of years ago I sent him some money and recently sent some more.

May I suggest that you send him some money too? He is asking only $10 a year. If you use his research to support your interest in orchids, please help him to continue to grow the website. It supplies us with information and pictures in a way that a whole library of books couldn't, especially with all the reclassifications of orchids.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Oncidium sphacelatum - orchid species challenge

Oncidium sphacelatum grows from Mexico south to Venezuela in low altitude rain forest. It is warm to hot growing, but does very well intermediate. It is giant sized and grows 6-foot long pendulous spikes.

As far as culture goes, this is considered a beginner plant, but not a good indoor plant because of the plant size and the length of the flower spike. Some people rig up a trellis and tie up the spike as it grows so that it is manageable.

This plant was a gift from a fellow orchidist. It was badly overgrown and in serious need of dividing and she frankly didn't want to deal with it. It was in pretty good health with some minor cold damage on the ends of some leaves.

I thought seriously of keeping the plant intact after seeing a picture of one of these beauties en situ. However, as I stood in the greenhouse I realized there was just no place for it. The greenhouse is not all that large to begin with and it is quite full already.

Dividing proceeded over a couple of days. It was very intertwined so I went slowly and carefully. I tried to get pieces of at least 3 pseudobulbs but I wasn't always able to do that.

The result was a great piece for my collection and a bunch of pieces to sell or trade. If you are interested in a piece, check the plant list.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

When is it time to let go?

When is a backbulb or a rescue plant beyond saving? When the plant is completely brown. Until then there is a chance that new growth will develop.

This Oncidium Helen of Troy is close, but orchids are survivors. Even as brown as this plant is, there are 3 keikis forming. One is at the base and one at each of the remaining green parts of the pseudobulb.

Keikis normally get energy from the mother plant, but this one is just about used up. The trick here is to monitor the keiki daily until the last of the green is gone. It should be watered and fed, since it has its own roots.

When removing several keikis at once one option is to create a community pot to let them develop for a year. That will not work in this case since the three are at different stages of development.

The road back to blooming is a long one for this plant. If one of the keikis can be transitioned to it's own pot, it may bloom in about 3 years.

What are orchid backbulbs?

Anguloa virginalis backbulbs removed during repottingBackbulbs are the older generations of growth that have been removed from an orchid. Often, when a plant is divided, older pseudobulbs are cut off to make the plant fit the pot better. These may be thrown away, but sometimes they are given as gifts to help a friend expand her collection, or sold when the plant is valuable.

That's what this site is all about; being ready when that wonderful gift of a collectable backbulb comes your way. There is as much art as science in getting backbulbs started. It requires great patience and lots of practice.

I am going to write about the trials, tribulations and successes as they happen. My goal is to improve my own skill by documenting what worked and what didn't work.

You can play too! Get yourself any old backbulb and try it out. You will find it to be very rewarding. And when that very special backbulb is offered, you will be able to accept it happily and gain a valuable addition to your collection.

Make notes and take pictures. I'd like to hear from you about your success with backbulbs.