Orchid of the Month


I’m a member of the Orchid of the Month Club and have had great success with 32 plants so far. The only exceptions are the Lady Slippers whose leaves are dying and falling off. What can I do differently? Judy C.


What could be more thrilling than receiving a new and exciting orchid at the doorstep each month then growing them all successfully for years to come? This is the mark of a true horticulturalist…an advanced grower…an orchid hobbyist.

Orchid of the Month Club members are treated to a varied array of genera – ranging from popular pastel-colored Dendrobiums and Phalaenopsis to less common types such as miniature art-shade Cattleyas and chocolate smelling Dancing Ladies with a few obscurities thrown in to challenge the neophyte. For those on a shoe string budget, the program can be downsized to the ‘Every Other Month’ or even ‘Every Third Month’.

The plants arrive wrapped tightly in cotton within slender cardboard sleeves and must be opened and watered right away. Plastic pots are used to avoid breakage and can be ‘dropped into’ fancy ceramic or terracotta containers for added bottom weight and asthetics. Additional accoutrements Spanish moss and curly willow are always a frou-frou option depending on desired mood.

One of the challenging aspects of a multi-genera collection is keeping track of the divergent cultural needs of the participants. Much like toddler’s day care where teachers must know who is potty trained, who has food allergies, and who takes naps, orchid growers have a mental tally of their plants culture. Light requirements are easy – Catts, Dens, Oncs prefer filtered sun while Paphs and Phals like shade. But what about watering regimes? Once a week might not be sufficient (or it might be overkill).

One must be especially cognizant of those plants that do not have pseudo-bulbs, which store water for periods of drought. Lady Slippers cannot dry out without showing immediate signs of stress – limp leaves and droopy flowers. Often taking a year or more to recover, Paphs will have to grow brand new perky leaves in order to look healthy again for the existing tattered foliage will not re-invigorate. Akin to tomato vines that shrivel up amidst dry cracking soil, Lady Slippers wither away if the potting media loses its moisture. Twice weekly watering is suggested!

What does watering a Lady Slipper entail? It sounds so simple yet mistakes are commonplace. One only has to think about where these tropical delights come from – the rainforest floor in decomposing humus that stays damp all the time. The hobbyist should carry the plant to the sink and thoroughly drench the media under a faucet until water pours out the bottom.



My fiancée has a special wedding request. He is from Colombia where Cattleya trainaei is the National Flower. He has asked me to have these flowers in my bouquet but im having a bit of a problem located them for our October event. Any ideas? Gina R.


This marriage is off to a rocky start for the Groom-to-be is already making unreasonable requests! The sentimental appeal of having hometown orchids in the wedding is enticing indeed. If only this species bloomed in the fall…

Cattleya trianaei is one of the most beloved orchids in South America and its only fitting that it is a National Flower. Annual orchid shows are held in August in major Colombian cities to coincide with the floral spectacle. In the Northern hemisphere, this lovely orchid blooms from December through March where it brightens up the dreariest days.

The finest-shaped blooms and the greatest range of color of all the Cattleya species are found with C trianaei. There are lovely pastel shades and varieties with flares, feathering in the petals, and the most delicate and glistening textures. The blossoms last longer than most hybrids found today – typically 5 to 6 weeks. The plant, itself, is a vigorous grower, making two growths a year, one right after the other, with flowers on both of them. Each bloom is gigantic, often measuring 6 or 7 inches across, and irresistibly fragrant. A wedding bouquet might be overwhelmed with such grandeur.

Regrettably, the October wedding date does not match the blooming time in either hemisphere so even a transcontinental change in venues will not allow this marriage. The easiest solution would be for hubby to ‘compromise’ (something he might as well get used to!) and allow fall blooming Cattleya hybrids that look similar to the species in the bouquet. A less desirable option is to move the wedding date if the inclusion of Cattleya trianaei is non-negotiable.



I bought a native terrestrial orchid at a local garden center. What is it and how do I care for it? Pauline C.


Bletilla striata is found growing all over the place but, according to the USDA website, is actually native to only northern Florida. Classified as a terrestrial plant, this ‘Chinese ground orchid’ can be planted as a bulb directly in well drained soil. Each spring/summer, the 2”lavender flowers appear on tall stems, bear a strong resemblance to those of Cattleyas, and last about a month. The foliage is substantial, prefers dappled light, and is used for medicinal purposes in developing countries. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2009 - 17:45