Outside Growing

With all the rain we have been having lately, is it still wise to put orchids outside? Nan A.
Extreme weather conditions require growers to modify their normal routines of transferring plants from the confines of living rooms to the spaciousness of backyards during the month of May. This annual orchid migration is usually aided by long range night temperature forecasts in the 50’s – a level which orchids tolerate without serious side affects. Unexpected natural phenomena such as hail storms, tsunamis, mudslides, etc do make life interesting for flora. This includes our current malady of near daily monsoons. I personally know Florida growers whose commercial greenhouses were completely blown away by Hurricane Andrew as well as Hawaiians whose farms were reduced to cinders by lava flows from Mauna Loa Volcano.
Few orchids like to ‘stay wet’ for long. Roots die away and plants cannot take up moisture even though they are sitting in water. While jungles get rainy seasons and dry seasons, the epiphytes are attached to the bark of trees so rotting is never an issue. Once the orchids are ‘trapped’ in pots, however, overwatering can occur. So what should hobbyists do when there is record rainfall in Virginia? There are three choices – cover the plants to keep water out, bring the plants in until the storms are over, or assume that the plants can adapt having survived zillions of years so far.

My Phalaenopsis has one flower that is deformed. Should I consider breeding this plant? Jim P.
Though mutated blossoms are a curiosity, it is hotly debated as to whether consumers would line up to pay for plants with such features. Some theorize that deformities are part of natural evolution – that this process is how superior varieties occur – ‘survival of the fittest’ and all that. Others see them as mistakes in floral morphology and discard them.
But what is a deformity? One of the defining traits of orchids is their flower structure of three sepals and three petals. Occasionally, there are too many parts or not enough – no petals, two lips, fused columns, etc – seemingly random mutations of one or more flowers. Is this good or bad? Would you want a dog with 3 ears or 5 tails?
The most common cause of deformities is ‘over-cloning’ in which the new shoots are subdivided too many times in the laboratory creating entire batches of abnormalities. Seed grown plants are occasionally victims as are plants that have been sprayed with certain harsh pesticides. Breeding for deformities using genetically flawed parents is really a crapshoot - a grower could raise thousands of plantlets for years only to throw them out when the blooming is substandard. There is one type of mutation that is occasionally propagated – a three lipped ‘peloric’ flower with symmetrical shape and color. Some find this appealing. I confess that I usually throw these out….

Thursday, May 1, 2008 - 17:45