Searching for Hybrids and Species that Flower During the Summertime
ORCHIDS, PARTICULARLY THE naturally occurring species, are generally seasonally blooming plants. With judicious selection, it is easy to amass a small collection that will keep fresh flowers coming during every month.
Nevertheless, most orchid growers would agree that the most challenging time for copious orchid flower production is during the dog days of summer. This has been the case in my experience, yet there have been a few stalwarts that have reliably helped carry my collection through the lean season of the orchid calendar.
One that immediately comes to mind is Galeandra dives, which flowers for me reliably every August. The New World species of the genus Galeandra are indeed memorable orchids. Their elongated pseudobulbs carry two ranks of long thin leaves arranged in an orderly fashion reminiscent of a small palm frond. Clusters of flowers that open somewhat successively are suspended beneath them.
The flower of Gal. dives is dominated by the lip and spur that combine to resemble a small cornucopia. Comparatively small sepals and petals are arranged on top of the dominant lip to give the blossom a crested appearance. The lip is a creamy shade, the perianth (sepals and petals collectively) olive in color. Galeandra baueri and Galeandra batemanii are rather similar and perhaps a bit more colorful.
While the flowers are not showy, they are long-lasting. Do not cut the inflorescences from the plant too soon, as they will often branch and flower a second time. Many species of Galeandra are of easy culture and thrive in conditions similar to those for cattleyas. The foliage is deciduous and the plants require a dry period when they are dormant during the winter.
Another genus I associate with summer is Brassia, which sports unique flowers in the orchid family. There are about 30 species in the genus. Brassia also comes from the tropical Americas and is popularly known as the spider orchid because of its long, thin floral segments. The flowers are usually neatly arranged on an arching inflorescence and many types are fragrant.
Among the showiest are Brassia caudata, Brassia gireoudiana, Brassia verrucosa and Brassia longissima. Brassias tend to grow vigorously and large under intermediate conditions. They benefit from plenty of water during the growing season, less during the winter. They thrive under light shade.
Brassia flowers may appear at almost any month of the year. This is particularly true among the hybrids. Still, the heaviest concentration of bloom occurs during the summer. Brassia has been hybridized extensively with related genera such as Oncidium and Miltonia, where they contribute their starry flower form and formal floral arrangement.
Another orchid in my collection that was a predictable warm-season bloomer was Cattleya gaskelliana, which is occasionally referred to as summer cattleya. This is one of the unifoliate types with large flowers. As with many of the unifoliate cattleyas, a variety of color forms occur, although most are variations on a pale lavender theme. The one I grew was an alba form, white with yellow markings in the lip. It flowered reliably each July. There are darker lavender types as well, plus coerulea and semialba forms. The species, which comes from Colombia and Venezuela, is an easy keeper in intermediate conditions but does best when kept a bit dry during the rest period. The flowers are sweetly fragrant. It is surprising that the species is not more commonly grown in private collections.
There have been other orchids in my collection that have helped to fill out the summer season. Some of them included those orchids that flower for several months at a time if not nearly year round.
For example, there are nearly always some hybrid phalaenopsis finishing their display as summer heats up, and as I have written before in previous articles, the diminutive Phalaenopsis Mahinhin (equestris × lueddemanniana) is virtually never out of bloom.
The species and hybrids from Paphiopedilum section Cochlopetalum are reliable summer performers as well. Paphiopedilum glaucophyllum and Paphiopedilum chamberlainianum in particular tend to send up new flower spikes in late spring that continue to produce successive blooms throughout the summer and for many months beyond.
Anyone seeking further ideas for summer-flowering orchids might want to track down a copy of an interesting out-of-print book titled When Does It Flower?, a paperback that was pri-vately published by Robert M. Hamilton some years ago.
Hamilton took the time and effort to gather and collate thousands of bits of information on orchid flowering times throughout the Northern Hemisphere. His information came from publications written at home and abroad. He included contemporary writings at the time of publication, as well as those written many years before. Hamilton also kept observational records on his numerous travels and visits to private and public greenhouses and included data received via correspondence. The second edition, published in 1986, includes more than 7,000 orchid species and natural hybrids. Each orchid listed has a summary by month of the number of times it was reported or seen in bloom.
While the presentation appears simplistic, much can be gleaned from its pages on a variety of levels. As you scan the listings, you cannot help but recall your own experiences with various species. It is not surprising, yet still fascinating, how some orchids flower throughout much of the year while others produce their blooms in a comparatively narrow window of time.
Knowledge of a particular orchid’s flowering time can provide clues to its proper culture. Certainly those plan-ning an orchid display in a particular month could gather ideas of what is likely to be in flower from the pages of this publication. Orchid breeders would find useful information here too.
Those who want to see a copy of Hamilton’s work will need to look to a horticultural library, orchid society library or used-book source to obtain a copy. The publication is indeed unique.
A Gallery of Summer-Flowering Orchids
HERE are additional suggestions for good candidates for summer-flowering orchids from the book When Does It Flower?, a paperback that was privately published by Robert M. Hamilton. Keep in mind that hybrids of these species may also flower at a similar time.
Euchile (syn. Encyclia) mariae
Prosthechea (syn. Encyclia) prismatocarpa
Sophronitis (syn. Laelia) crispa
Sophronitis (syn. Laelia) tenebrosa
Specklinia (syn. Pleurothallis)