Summertime welcomes one of the most unusual of all the epiphytic genera – Brassias - affectionately known as ‘spider orchids’. The arachnid nickname is well-suited because the blossoms look like they could start crawling at any moment. There are five very long spidery legs (three sepals and two petals) which can reach 6” or more on some varieties.
Brassias can bloom any time but they are especially heavy just as Phalaenopsis are finishing which endears them to collectors who strive to have buds opening every month. The colors run a narrow spectrum of gold to green with dark speckles or markings interspersed. Nearly all the varieties are fragrant and there are even some which produce blossoms twice a year.
There are approximately 30 naturally occurring species which make up the genus Brassia – each slightly different but all very spider-like. Hobbyists can find these plants growing wild in Central and South America. The flowers are pollinated by parasitic wasps which mistakenly lay their eggs on the false ‘spiders’. Courting is fraught with deception.
A well-grown Brassia can become a large specimen in a relatively short time – 3-5 years after initially blooming. The lead pseudo-bulb will often sprout two new growths (one from each eye) which will both mature and produce twice the flowers. Those two pseudo-bulbs will then sprout four new growths and so on. It is not uncommon to see a robust Brassia with a dozen flower spikes and hundreds of perfectly arranged blossoms.
Brassias are loosely grouped in the Oncidium family and they breed easily with similar genera such as Miltonias, Cochliodas, and Odontoglossoms. The resulting new hybrids are called ‘Intergeneric Oncidiums’ and can produce stunning results. Some popular varieties include ‘Witch Doctor’, ‘Cotton Candy’, and ‘Shooting Stars’. The names alone sell them.
Although Spider Orchids don’t have eight legs, spin webs, or shoot venom, they do give first time viewers a rush of adrenaline. The plants need a little more light than Phalaenopsis but are still considered easy to grow. Consider adding a Brassia to your collection, if nothing else, to give your neighbors something to talk about.