Book Reviews

The Classic Cattleyas
"The Classic Cattleyas"
American Orchid Society Book Review.
(Ned Nash)


By A.A. Chadwick and Art Chadwick, 2006. Timber Press, Portland.

162 color photographs and 10 line drawings. Hardcover, 252 pages. Publisher's price:

$49.95.

THERE IS NOTHING QUITE LIKE an old-school orchid book, one written by someone widely experienced in the particular genus, with an obvious love and respect for the subject. As has been so often said, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." My first impression about "The Classic Cattleyas?" Timber Press has done it again. This is another in the long line of fine horticultural books from this publisher. Everything about this book simply screams, "Read me." From the lovely cover shot of "Cattleya warscewiczii" (or "C. gigas," as some of us old-timers continue to insist) to the size, weight and paper stock, this is a class act through and through. However, this one slip is not in any way representative of the book as a whole, which is accurate to a tee. Chadwick's photographs are all of uniformly high quality, reproduced with Timber's usual care, and generally of fine clones that he has grown to perfection. If for no other reason than that the subject of the book is the large-flowered cattleyas (real orchids), this would be a must-have book in every serious orchidist's library. I admire Chadwick's writing style, as well.

Most AOS readers are familiar with Chadwick's series of articles in "Orchids," upon which "The Classic Cattleyas" is based. This time it is so much more than just a collection of those articles, however. Chadwick represents a breed of orchidist nearly lost today. He is a consummate grower, with encyclopedic first-hand knowledge of his subject. Chadwick has grown so many fine cattleyas for so long, and studied not only their culture but lived the history, that his book cannot help but be a tribute to these finest of all orchids.

Several features of "The Classic Cattleyas" will be sure to capture the reader's attention. First and foremost, Chadwick has great stories. To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of the orchid avocation is the human history that intertwines itself through every facet of our little world.

From his treatment of the early history of orchid cultivation, giving the usual propers to Joseph Paxton, through the often-complex inner workings of the orchid community, to the stories behind the stories, Chadwick weaves a readable and concise path of humanity. Not to be missed are the many illustrations from bygone days that so perfectly capture a moment in time. A particular favorite is to be found on page 32, illustrating two grand society dowagers with their orchid corsages proudly borne on ample bosoms. Of great interest is Chadwick's unique personal knowledge of East Coast orchid history, much of it experienced first hand, and told as if over a cup of coffee. From Burrage and Dixon to Sinkler and Lager and Dupont, all the big names are there. If there is a shortcoming., it is the sometimes short shrift given to the contributions of West Coast orchid growers. Finally, he tracks cultivation of cattleyas right up to the present day, with a wonderful analysis of why they have been superseded in popularity, if not in beauty, by the ubiquitous phalaenopsis.

Chadwick shows a good understanding of the vicissitudes and problems in the classification of cattleyas, which continues to roil growers. His scheme of treating the various "Cattleya" species in the order in which Europeans discovered them is both clever and enlightening. His treatment of the various species again reveals the intimate knowledge he has gained over years of study and growing.

Too, he has accumulated a vast storehouse of rare varieties, best exemplified by an absolutely stunning photograph of a rare and difficult to grow selfing of Cattleya dowiana 'Rosita'. His cultural tips are based on years of experience tempered only by some optimism, as when he quotes Cattleya schroederae as a "Good beginner's plant." Not for me, at least, it isn't. Nevertheless, a beginning grower could do worse than follow his instructions.

While the main focus of the book is on the species, Chadwick also discusses the early days of cattleya hybridizing, giving a wonderfully accurate picture of how we arrived at the dizzying breadth and range of colors now seen. Sections on culture and orchid art complete what must be one of the best orchid books available today.

I wholeheartedly liked and would recommend "The Classic Cattleyas." Thank you, Mr. Chadwick.

The Orchid Review Magazine (Isobyl la Croix).
The Classic Cattleyas by Arthur A. Chadwick & Arthur E. Chadwick, 252 pp, 162 colour photos, 10 line drawings. 2006. Hardback. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon, USA. £35.00; $49.95. ISBN13:978-0-88192-764-1. ISBN10: 0-88192-764-3.

Cattleyas must be the quintessential orchids – the plants that the word ‘orchid’ brings to mind for the world at large. They have given their name to a colour, orchid – although orchids come in almost every colour imaginable, most cattleyas are that particular tint of lavender-pink.

The authors of this book have been growing cattleyas for many years and have an unrivalled knowledge of these spectacular plants. The first two chapters give a very readable account of the history of Cattleya cultivation, from the early days when they were grown – and killed – as ‘stove’ plants to the peak of their popularity as cut flowers and corsages. The story of how William Cattley acquired and flowered Cattleya labiata, the type species of the genus, is different (and rather more probable) than the one in common currency.

I had not realised that cattleyas were once grown largely for cut flowers – in 1889, the price of a dozen cut cattleyas was 10-15 shillings. Neither did I know that in the 1920s, cattleyas (presumably the flowers) were used for flavouring bathtub gin.

In the United States, cattleyas were widely used for corsages through the 1940s and 1950s, but in the late 1950s, cymbidiums took over. They had more flowers, which were less easily damaged, but as the price came down, so the glamour faded.

Chapter 3 is entitled ‘A Touch of Botany’, which is self-explanatory. This is followed by a chapter descriibing 17 species comprising what the authors call the Large-flowered Species. Cattleyas are generally divided into two groups, the unifoliate and the bifoliate species. All large-flowered cattleyas are unifoliate, but not all unifoliate species are large-flowered (eg C. luteola). Several of the species were originally described as varieties of C. labiata, but it is now accepted that they are species in their own right. They differ in flowering time and with judicious selection, it is possible to have a species of Cattleya in flower in every month of he year.

Each of the 17 species is discussed in detail, describing how and when it was found and introduced and with a section on culture. Each is accompanied by several excellent photographs showing a range of colour forms – cattleyas are variable plants and a great many cultivars have been named. Again the photographs are on the page with the text, rather than in a section of their own; this adds greatly to any book’s appeal.

The most controversial part of the book is Chapter Five. This is called ‘The Orphanage – The Brazilian Laelia/Cattleyas’. Here, six Brazilian species formerly classified in Laelia (L. crispa, L. perrinii, L. lobata, L. grandis, L. purpurata and L. tenebrosa) are transferred to Cattleya. Some, indeed, were originally described as Cattleya. However, although it is now generally accepted that the Brazilian and Mexican laelias are not closely related, in Genera Orchidacearum volume 4, the species listed above were transferred to Sophronitis on the basis of DNA evidence. Time will tell which version is eventually accepted.

This is followed by chapters on Cattleya hybrids, Cattleyas in art, and on growing cattleyas, including potting and dividing and pests and diseases, and finally a Bibliography. The book is comprehensive, a pleasure to handle and to read, the cover is stunning, and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in these handsome plants.

Isobyl la Croix