Small Wonders

Cattleya Alliance Dendrobiums Species Vandaceous

by Ken Slump

Posted by Sys Admin over 3 years ago.

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Tempting Choices to Grow Where Space is Limited

MANY POPULAR ORCHID SPECIES and their hybrids eventually grow to become sizeable plants. While a specimen-size standard cattleya or angraecum in flower is often a breathtaking sight, many growers find it difficult to allow space for more than a few of those. Fortunately, there are many equally showy, if smaller alternatives that are ideal for those who have limited space.

CATTLEYA CLAN  Most refer to the smaller-sized Cattleya alliance hybrids as mini-catts. Even among these, there is a considerable range of plant size, although most growers would agree that any plant with pseudobulbs and leaves totaling about 12 inches (30 cm) or less in length would qualify. Some mini-catts, however, are considerably smaller.

Some of the miniature species in the genus Cattleya would make ideal candidates for the species grower who lacks room for a specimen that requires several cubic feet of space when mature. Possibilities include Cattleya walkeriana, Cattleya luteola, Cattleya aclandiae and Cattleya forbesii. Many regard the species C. luteola and C. forbesii as among the least showy members of the genus. Their flowers are often greenish, straw-colored or pale yellow and lack broad segments; the lips are rather tubular. Yet both arguably possess a fair amount of species charm and can develop into fine specimens.

Cattleya walkeriana, on the other hand, has rather large flowers for the size of plant and is showy when in flower. The pale green or yellowish sepals and petals of C. aclandiae are often spotted or blotched with a dark reddish brown, while the lip is typically a contrasting rose-purple, offering an undeniable touch of the exotic. All of these species come from South America and the species C. walker-iana, C. aclandiae and C. forbesii are notably fragrant.

Other familiar and popular species in the Cattleya alliance are of small stature, although a number of them have been reclassified and renamed in recent years. One such example is Laelia pumila (syn. Sophronitis pumila). Whether you favor its new name or not, this miniature Brazilian species has undeniably showy lavender flowers. Blossoms of fiery red or orange are produced by its familiar and now close relative, Sophronitis coccinea, another popular miniature species.

An example of a smaller Cattleya alliance species that is perhaps less frequently encountered and cultivated would be Broughtonia sanguinea. It is worthwhile, if a bit fussy about its growing conditions, and has contributed to some important mini-catt hybrids.

While the length of the leaves and pseudobulbs of some Brassavola species may exceed the 1-foot (30-cm) limit for mini-catt status, some, such as Brassavola nodosa, often do not. The compact habit and floriferous nature of this genus have made them popular with some mini-catt breeders who appreciate their starry floral forms and their aptitude for frequent floral display.

These, and other Cattleya alliance species could provide plenty of opportunities and challenge for the orchid grower looking to produce a dramatic specimen plant in a small space, but for many growers, mini-catt hybrids is where the action is. You can find hybrid plants of small stature 
with the typical Lc. (Laeliocattleya), Blc. (Brassolaeliocattleya) and Slc. (Sophrolaeliocattleya) abbreviations on them, although in some cases the changes in nomenclature have made them obsolete. Look also to hybrid genera such as Cattleytonia, Stellamizutaara, Hawkinsara, Otaara and Potinara for additional possibilities.

There have been many popular mini-catt hybrids in recent years. Just a few from the recent past, listed here with their taxonomic names and parentage that were in use at the time they were registered, include Cattley-tonia Why Not (C. aurantiaca × Bro. sanguinea), Sophrolaeliocattleya Pink Doll (Slc. Tangerine Jewel × L. pumila), Sophrocattleya Beaufort (S. coccinea × C. luteola), Laeliocattleya Love Knot (L. sincoriana × C. walkeriana), Laeliocattleya Mini Purple (L. pumila × C. walkeriana) and Otaara Hidden Gold (Ctna. Why Not × Bl. Richard Mueller).

One Cattleya alliance species that deserves a spot in any collection of miniature orchids is Leptotes bicolor. Its starry little flowers are greenish to creamy white, usually with a pale to darker purple lip, giving the blossoms the intrigue of a diminutive semi-alba cattleya. A specimen sized Leptotes bicolor is space efficient. 

The genus Encyclia comprises a particularly varied and interesting group. Two worth including in this discussion are the handsome species Encyclia vitellina and Encyclia mariae, both of which are also placed in the genus Prosthechea. Encyclia vitellina produces an inflorescence that carries from several to more than a dozen fiery orange-red flowers. The flower’s narrow lip is yellow. The plant is rather easy to grow if your conditions are not too warm and you heed its need for a dry winter rest. Similar, if perhaps drier conditions suit Encyclia mariae as well. Encyclia mariae also produces a unique flower that typically has pale green sepals and petals with recurved tips. The flower’s most distinctive feature is its disproportionately large frilly white lip that enfolds the column. Both species are uniquely beautiful within the orchid world.

If you favor the species look and orchid flowers with unique character, Neolehmannia porpax (syn. Epidendrum porpax and peperomia) is sure to please. This miniature orchid has a creeping habit with freely branching stems that rather quickly cover the are surface of the pot or mount on which it is grown. In summer or autumn, the flowers are produced at the tips of the stems. The brown and green lip is rather tear-shaped and has narrow sepals and petals attached. While a plant in full bloom may appear to harbor a con-gregation of beetles, the application of a fly swatter will yield little more than cuttings of the plant for your friends.

VANDA RELATIVES  Of course, there are many worthy orchids of small-stature beyond the boundaries of the Cattleya alliance. If you enjoy the floral style and intoxicating evening frag-rance of the African Angraecoid orchids, but do not have room for a specimen plant of Angraecum sesqui-pedale, the diminutive relative Neo-finetia falcata may be perfect for you. This charming miniature comes from the somewhat cooler areas of Japan and the nearby region. It typically blooms in spring or summer with small inflorescences that carry up to seven white flowers. Each fragrant flower possesses a long curved spur.

The range of vivid colors available combined with the wow factor of a well-grown vanda or ascocenda is hard to top. However, some smaller orchids of this type will occupy considerably less space in your growing area than will their standard-sized cousins. Ascocentrum miniatum is perhaps the easiest to grow of the Ascocentrum species; many plants in cultivation labeled as Asctm. miniatum are really Ascocentrum garayi. 

If it is the bluish-colored vanda you favor, look for the primary hybrid Neostylis Lou Sneary (Neof. faclata × Rhy. coelestis). While you will not find flowers the vivid hue seen in Vanda coerulea, many cultivars have a lilac or blue-lavender tone that is often sought in orchids and the plants maintain a very manageable size.

Indeed, the Vanda alliance seems to include a number of showy, yet compact orchid species. A favorite is Sedirea japonica, the only species in its genus. The waxy white flowers are typically accented with bands or markings of pale rose on the lip and lateral sepals. They have a pleasant fragrance too.

Yet another Vandaceous genus, Aerangis, features quite a number of attractive dwarf species. Many of them are tolerant of low light situations but require high humidity to thrive. Among them, Aerangis luteoalba is perhaps the showiest. The plant’s white flowers are usually perfectly aligned on an arching inflorescence, each blossom brightly accented with a red column.
It is interesting to note that quite a few of the smaller-growing orchids are tolerant of shadier conditions than are their bigger cousins. But after some consideration, it seems logical that small plants would not typically occupy harsh, exposed locations. Smaller orchids, however, often require higher humidity levels and careful attention to their watering needs compared with larger types.

DENDROBIUMS  The genus Den-drobium is among the most diverse in the orchid family. Some types produce plants that are quite vigorous and sizeable, but a fair number of species and hybrids maintain a manageable mass as well. One of the most compact, yet floriferous, is the cool-growing 

New Guinea species Dendrobium cuthbertsonii. Well-grown and -flowered examples of the species often seem to produce more floral tissue than foliage. The flowers are long lasting and showy. Reddish hues predominate, but a rainbow of warm shades from yellow and orange to purple, as well as bicolored blossoms, can be found.

MORE CHOICES  For a rather different sort of small orchid, in foliage, form and flower, look to Stenoglottis longifolia. This South African native is a terrestrial species that forms rosettes of long, thin leaves. It flowers in autumn, producing a tall spike with dozens of small, lilac-pink flowers with darker spots. The flowers open successively, from the bottom of the spike toward the tip. The flower’s lip is elongated and includes several deep, pointed lobes, resembling the tail of a comet. Moderate light, cool to inter-mediate temperatures and moderate to high humidity levels make it thrive.

Many of the species in the genus Dendrochilum have such narrow leaves that they often appear to the casual observer to be grasses. The flower spikes, in many cases, do little to dispel this image. While the leaves and plant size of Dendrochilum wenzelii are not the shortest or most compact within the genus, they are far from the largest. This species has some of the most colorful flowers in the genus with its dense arching spikes of small red blossoms.

A final suggestion for the collector of exotic miniature orchids is Promenaea xanthina. The plants are small and each inflorescence produces but one or two bright yellow flowers. Happily, the blossoms are fragrant and long lasting, and the Brazilian native is said to be of easy culture.

The quest for interesting small orchids may lead you much further than these few suggestions. For some, the most fascinating orchids require a hand lens to fully appreciate their wonders. Fortunately for those with limited space, orchids are as diverse in their size as they are in their flowers.

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