The Art of Culling


by Ken Slump

Posted by Sys Admin almost 3 years ago.

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Improving Your Collection Through the Careful Process of Elimination

SOME GROWERS PREFER ORCHID flowers as large and gaudy as possible, while others concentrate on those with blossoms so tiny they require magnification to appreciate. Certain hobbyists favor hybrid orchids, while their counterparts cultivate only species. And then there are those orchid growers who specialize in one species or a particular branch of the orchid family, while many others seem to want to grow every orchid they see.

In addition to floral appeal, there are lots of additional reasons we add particular plants to our collections. Ease of culture, hybridizing potential, geographical importance, historical significance and rarity are but a few. Sometimes we have a plant because it was given to us; occasionally we keep a plant in our collections simply because of some sentimental value.

Many of us can barely recall the moment when we owned just 10 or 15 orchid plants. For enigmatic reasons, hobbyist orchid collections often grow at remarkable rates, exponentially faster than those of any other sort of specialty horticulturist. Perhaps it is caused by a condition that, during the 19th century, was called orchiddelirium. 

EDITING  From time to time it is important to go through your orchid collection with a critical eye and do some culling. Not surprisingly, this is one of the most difficult tasks for many to accomplish, yet it can be extremely rewarding. If you are one of the multitude who cannot seem to begin the process, there are a few easy steps to follow.

First, dispose of any plants that appear diseased or that struggle to survive. Many of us keep for months or years ailing, infested orchids that we would not give to our worst enemy. Despite all evidence to the contrary, we maintain the vain hope that they will suddenly thrive, bloom and overcome their predators. This is highly unlikely.

In fact, the reason many plants become infested is that they are under stress. Diseased plants need to be removed before they have the opportunity to infect others in the collection. Puny plants may be suffering because you do not have the correct conditions to grow them, or you may have acquired a seedling with a particularly weak constitution.

Neither give such plants to an unsuspecting novice nor take them to the divisions table at your next orchid society meeting. It is enough of a challenge to keep healthy orchids growing; there is no reason to attempt to revive the nearly dead, unless the plant represents a rare species. Chalk those losses up to orchid experience and dispose of them yourself, hu-manely — the nearest dumpster will do. You will be surprised at how much better your collection will look without them.

ORPHANS  Next, consider moving out any orphans in your collection. “Orphan” is a term used for any plant that is unidentified, that is, without a name. Usually this will be a hybrid orchid whose identification tag or label has been lost. Most serious hobbyists do not devote much time to such plants. Orphan plants frustrate and challenge our human curiosity for the answer to “what is it?” Moreover, part of the joy of learning about orchids is discovering and appreciating the similarities and differences between related species and hybrids. Without a name, you have just another pretty flower.

You certainly may take orphans to your society meetings and even some orchid shows to display them, but fellow members or visitors who might like to acquire a similar plant would likely have a frustrating time. Orphans are useless in orchid hybridizing and may not receive AOS flower-quality awards. However, orphan orchids with exceptional sentimental attachment or those with flowers of incomparable beauty may justify a space in your collection. 

Please do not think that if you can get your orphan plant to bloom, an orchid judge or experienced grower will be able to identify it for you. While there are exceptions, few orchid hybrids are sufficiently unique that they can be visually identified with certainty. Disposal hint: Orphan orchids, particularly those in bloom, make great gifts for your friends who are not orchid collectors.

THE NEXT STEP  If space is not a problem, then your job may be finished. Yet even static collections are subject to crowding as the plants grow larger and older. If you are like most, you will sooner or later find it necessary to thin the ranks beyond the sickly and unidentified. At those times you may have a challenge deciding which plants you could or would be able to live without.

Duplicates are certainly among the first plants you should give up. As long as you have room for them, it is a good idea to mark them with uniquely colored tags so you can spot them easily when you are looking for a gift for a visitor who comes to admire your collection or when you need a donation for the society’s orchid auction.

Sometimes large plants become difficult to house as time goes on. Keeping a healthy, vigorous division and sharing the other divisions with friends can often solve the problem.

Over time, it is not uncommon for collections to accumulate several different plants with similar, if not nearly identical, flowers. Most of us know the sorts of orchids we like and we just keep buying them. When it comes to choosing between similar orchids, consider frequency of bloom and how long the flowers last. Those criteria are useful when you are forced to choose between orchids with dissimilar flowers too.

Perhaps the most difficult plants to cull are those that, for various reasons, seem to interest you less than they once did. Parting with a decent, but perhaps unexciting plant can be agonizing, particularly if you have had it a long time. Often it is a situation where your tastes have evolved with your experience in the hobby. Ridding your collection of plants you have outgrown can make room for other orchids that you may enjoy more.

Such orchids are often ideal plants to take to your society’s divisions table or to offer to friends. Everybody has different preferences in orchids and your healthy but unwanted plant may be one someone else would relish.

Every collection should be viewed as a work in progress. The goal should be to assemble a healthy collection of the highest quality possible. Since most of us have a limited amount of space and time to devote to our orchids, we owe it to ourselves to grow only those we really like and that perform well for us.

While there are many good reasons for periodically culling a crowded orchid collection, perhaps the best one is that it can make space to acquire more.

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