THE GREAT CATTLEYA SPECIES OF THE CUT-FLOWER ERA
When a vagabond plant collector named William Swainson sent a bundle of strange lavender-flowered plants thought to be parasitic to the Glasgow Botanic Garden in 1817, he opened the door to a flood of excitement that would engulf the horticultural world for the rest of the century.
Winter may be a dreary time of the year with its overcast days and long somber nights, but for those who grow Cattleya trianaei, it is a time to enjoy one of nature’s most colorful and captivating flowers.
Baron J. H. W. von Schröder had one of the finest orchid collections in Europe and he loved cattleyas. The largest and grandest greenhouse on his estate near Windsor was built just for cattleyas, and his appetite for fine Cattleya species was insatiable. At The Dell, as he called his estate, he wanted only the best and nothing less would do.
Cattleya quadricolorfirst appeared in Europe in 1848 when an English orchid grower named Rucker received a single plant from a friend traveling in Colombia. When the plant flowered in 1849, Rucker sent the flowers to the botanist John Lindley, asking him what it was. The only large-flowered Cattleyaspecies known at the time were Cattleya. labiata and Cattleya mossiae, and Lindley thought the flowers Rucker sent were different enough from these two species to mention the plant in an article he wrote for Paxton’s Flower Garden.
The mid 1800s was the great age of discovery for the large-flowered Cattleya species. The first species were found by private individuals and government workers living or traveling in South America who sent the plants back to horticultural friends in Europe. As the age progressed, however, most of the species were discovered by professional plant hunters working for large commercial orchid companies.