Saturday, November 1, 2008

The root of the problem, ever green dendrobium hybrid roots

One of the problems that you find when you are helping new orchid growers deal with problems regarding their plants is that for some themes there is hardly any information or photos posted. You can find thousands of stunning flower photos but few showing how a healthy root system should look like. To ameliorate this problem I am posting some pictures of how a healthy root system of an evergreen dendrobium of the group of hybrids of sphatulata x phalaenanthe sections. Along with some tips on keeping the roots alive and growing.As you look at the photo please note the following details.

1. There is very little by the way of organic material, the plant is potted in marble chips and the mix is quite clean, no moss, sphagnum or other moisture retentive material.

2. The mix is dry but you see massive root growth.

3. The roots are white and the growing tips are green and all growing at the same time, this is a sign of uniform cultural practices. You see very few dead roots.

4. The mix is firmly but not heavily packed, it has lots of empty spaces but the plant doesn't wiggle in the pot.

5. The bulk of the root mass is attached to the pot not to the mix.The paramount need of these types of dendrobiums is that the roots have access to ventilation and that they experience a cycle of drying. Nothing kills this plants better than tyranny of the evenlymoistness. When watering these plants they need to be thoroughly soaked, drenched even, but then they have to be allowed to dry. Heavy packed mix+heavy watering hand=root death. They need fertilizer but in mild concentrations and frequent applications, root killing high fertilizer concentrations on irregular intervals are sure death.

I know most manuals offer general information on how to care for orchids that is generally good as a starting point but with some of these orchids it pays to look at the nitty-gritty of their cultural needs. As soon as this plant blooms I will post the photos.

Bulbophyllum biflorum flower and two flies fighting over it

These flies are usually quite wary as in the garden there are a plethora of predators that think of flies as convenience food. However it seems the smell of this Bulbophyllum biflorum had them entranced to such a degree that they would not move from the flower even when I approached very closely. When I shooed one away the other one would quickly jump on the flower. When both landed on the flower a scuffle ensued and one was thrown from the flower. I could not help but think of two gunslingers that were waiting to see who would make the first move. I have tried to detect a smell but it I can't smell anything. Perhaps other people who have this plant can describe the smell. I assume it is a fecal smell due to the type of fly that is attracted to the flower. Even though ordinarily I would shoo the flies away as to prevent them removing the pollen and causing premature folding of the flowers, in this case I am going to allow the poor blighters some leeway. The truth is that the life of these flies must be one big and smelly pile of s**t, so if they are trying to get their jollies in much pleasanter surroundings I will not be the one to deprive them of the opportunity.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Arachnis culture

Arachnis Maggie Oei 'Red Ribbon', a hybrid

Arachnis flos-aeris var. insignis, the storied "Black Orchid" is, in truth, deep red

Arachnis Maggie Oei 'Yellow Ribbon" An extremely hardy and common plant in PR

A Vandachnis Coronation is a hybrid of Vandopsis lissochiloides x Arachnis Maggie Oei. It is a slow growing, large sized plant that blooms once a week and produces long lasting leathery flowers that favor the Arachnis parent.

Because of their ecology Arachnis plants can be difficult to culture and bloom if certain things are not done.
1. An Arachnis plant needs a good root system to grow and bloom well and to survive the effects of full sunlight. A young plant with few roots that is grown exposed to full sunlight will grow very slowly and if it blooms it will bloom weakly. So you need to keep the base in the shade in a pot filled with bark and leafmold. A touch of cattle manure can do wonders.
2. You have to replicate the plant's journey to the canopy, this is done by tying the plant to a suitably sturdy post, this should be positioned so that the plant eventually reaches a spot where it is receiving full sun during most of the day.
3. When the plant has reached a height that has the tip of the stem receiving full sun and has started blooming, allow it to grow about two feet more and then bend (but not break) the stalk to the side. The bent stalk will mimic what happens to plants that protrude too much from the canopy. The bent tip will continue growing and blooming albeit not as vigorously as before. But after the tip of the stalk is bent you will notice a new stem growing just under the spot where you bent the stem. Continue bending down new stems and cutting the tips that are blooming too poorly. Plant them near the base of the first plant.
4. Continue planting stems and enjoying the results, give stem props to neighbors so that they can plant their own plants.
5. Enjoy the ever enlarging mass of Arachnis that is decorating your house and your neighbors house.
6. Start getting nervous and paranoid about the sheer mass of orchids that is now growing all around your county. You know they are talking about you.
7. Grab a machete and your loved ones and hack your way out to freedom away from the encroaching ever growing orchids.
8. Flee the country.
9. In your new residence buy an innocuous looking "fast growing"orchid.

Dendrobium anosmum var. huttoni culture

Late last year I was offered a large, two cane keiki, of Dendrobium anomum var. huttonii (it was a particularly fine example of this semi-alba type). It was an offer I could not refuse, as high quality plants of these type are seldom offered for sale. Unfortunately the keiki was attached to a cane of the mother plant that had been bent until it was attached to the mount of the mother plant. This was done to let the keiki attach itself to the fern pole where the mother plant was growing. This meant that removing the keiki would result in a loss of most of its roots. This would result in a severe setback for this young plant and could add years to the wait for flowers. Cutting a piece of the mount was out of question as this would damage the mother plant root ball.Several measures were taken to insure that the keiki would not be set back too severely. These are detailed in the following paragraphs so you can use them if there is the need.It is important to note that what I did can be generalized to other Dendrobiums relatively similar in growth to anosmum such as aphyllum, primulinum, lituiflorum and parishii. However this method might not be advisable with other dendrobium groups.The first thing done was to cut a generous portion of the cane that held the keiki to have as much reserve tissue for the keiki as possible, the keiki was not detached from the cane. Then the unattached roots were NOT PUT IN the potting mix. Roots that develop in the air fare very poorly when buried in the media.These dendrobiums need heavy fertilizing and watering when in full growth, the few measly roots this plant had would not suffice to sustain good growth if it didn't receive intensive care for the first few months. So a creative solution was need to insure the plant got enough humidity and fertilizer, in those critical first months.I made a wire basket with a hole in the bottom. The basket was filled with media that was composed of bark and horse manure. The media was carefully arranged inside the basket. In the center just over where the keiki the basket had (the keiki was very firmly attached so it would not wiggle and damage fragile new roots) a core of very hard, dry horse manure pieces. The horse manure core was put in so that water would drip over the base of the keiki every time the mix got wet. the horse manure core was surrounded by medium size bark so that the plant was provided with an open, oxygenated area where the roots could grow and attach. The bark also concealed the manure which could be an offensive sight for some.The keiki was attached to the bottom of the basket so that the plant would grow and hang like they do in nature. The first few weeks the plant produced a few roots that grew slowly, however as it developed a larger root mass, root production accelerated and it started embracing the media. As you can see in the photos the plant is producing many, many roots and they are rapidly infiltrating the media. The green root tips of the developing roots are quite long, an indication of vigorous root growth. Hopefully this plant will bloom next year. If you compare this potting strategy with a previous post by me on potting of dendrobiums of the spathulata/phalaenanthe group you will notice the strategies are radically different. This shows the need to do some experimenting when growing your own plants and the fact that there is no one size fits all way of growing these magnificent orchids.The brown roots hanging in the air are the original air roots that survived the removal of the keiki from the mount, every other root is new

Dendrobium hybrid culture

Dendrobium Thongchai Gold

Each year vast multitudes of these popular Dendrobium hybrids are sent to that great orchid terracota pot in the sky by well meaning growers. The problem that Dendrobium that are descended from crosses of the Sphatulata and the Phalaenopsis section of Dendrobium pose to the average grower is both perplexing and contradictory. On one hand they are heavy feeders that demand good watering and fertilizing when growing, on the other, overwatering and too much fertilizer are deadly to these orchids. As a result these plants are carefully cared by people who love them in ways that slowly but surely kill them. The first error is potting these plants in an overly large pot, this is a death sentence. These plants need good oxygenation of the roots, a mix that has poorly ventilated spots or even anoxic areas will kill the roots in no time. The best solution is to pot these plants in pots that allow for plenty of air flow. This last week end I was visiting relatives in a seaside area of the town of Rincon. People there cultivate these dendrobiums on palm trunks. Putting most orchids in a palm trunk that has the consistency of concrete, in full sun, in an area subject to strong winds and the occasional sea spray is almost a sure death sentence, these Dendrobium however survive and even thrive. Since a photo is worth a thousand words here are some photos so you can see for yourself how these plants do under conditions that most plants would find too severe to survive.

Bletia patula a pale color form

This flowers show a typical coloration,
they were growing a few feet from the pale colored flower.

A very pale flower of Bletia patula

Every so often I grab my backpack and hike into the island forests looking for orchids. I was lucky enough to secure the company of a friend who is just giving up smoking and was quite desperate for anything that would keep his mind off smoking and him away from other smokers. After a few hours of hiking we came upon a huge area where, for some reason, the all vegetation was killed some years ago by the government. Plants have been slow to colonize this patch but you could see here and there small Bletia patula plants growing inter sped with a host of pioneer plant species, mostly grasses. Unfortunately there was only a single B. patula plant in bloom that I could see in the whole area. When I was photographing the plant my friend calling at me from some distance away telling about a plant that might be an orchid. Looking at the plant from a distance I assumed that probably it was the white form of Spathoglottis plicata, which can be found by the thousands in some valleys in the central mountains. But I decided to take a look just in case. When I got near the plant i realized that it could be a Spathoglottis, it had the wrong shape and the inflorescence was too short. Initially I was quite excited at the prospect of having found an alba form of Bletia patula, however the buds were light pink even if the flower was almost white. I have seen groups many thousands of plants of B. patula in many places in the northwestern part of the island and I have never seen a white form. I might be wrong but as far as I know only one alba form of this species has ever been found. This plant is not an alba, but what it could be called, a near alba, semi alba? I am posting a photo here in the hope that someone who knows more about this species might offer some enlightening comment on this plant. By the way I didn't collect this plant, I can't say I wasn't mighty tempted but decided that it will remain in place until I can ascertain if the government plans to eradicate the plants in the area again. In case that the government has plans to keep killing the vegetation in this spot(I think it is done with herbicides) I will move the plant to a secure place inside a state forest where I can keep visiting it. It is possible that I would have missed this plant completely if my friend had not looked at it closely mainly because I would not have associated the light color flowers nodding in the distance with B. patula flowers.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Psychilis krugii at Guanica State Forest

On February 27, 2006, I went to Guanica State Forest to try to find and photograph some variations of the orchid Psychilis krugi. The area is very dry and hot and during the "wet" season it is also horribly mosquito infested (now is the dry season). I had a hard time finding somebody to accompany me. I asked a female friend if she could go with me. I told her that there would be poisonous plants, the odd loathsome insect and fearsomely prickly cactus. She said that she would go since it would be a refreshing change from having to deal with her ex-husband.I went to an area that is rarely visited as the most well traveled areas have been nearly stripped of orchids.We had to hike for a while but when we arrived we found hundreds of plants but very, very few flowers. In fact we saw only three flowers. However the plants had many inflorescenses and probably in a month or two there will be a huge number of flowers.

Vanda tricolor var. suavis, seed pod releasing seed to the wind

I don't recall ever seeing anywhere a picture of the orchid seed being released from a seed capsule. So I decided to photograph the newly opened capsule of a Vanda tricolor var. suavis that is near my shade house and to share the pictures with all of you that might want to see it. This seed capsule reached maturity after about a year of the flower being pollinated. It was naturally pollinated by a local species of solitary bee. The first time I moved the capsule an impressively dense red cloud of seed was released. Unfortunately I was not able to photograph this event. The photograph shows the second event of seed dispersal. I moved the capsule from side to side to stimulate the release of the seed. You can see as the light weight seed floats in the air as a cloud of reddish points. Every surface in the near proximity of the Vanda was sprinkled with some seed but the Phaius plants growing near had their leaves covered with a particularly generous dusting of seeds. It is uncertain if any seed will survive as we are in the peak of the dry season. But just in case I will be on the lookout for any seedling that might develop in near by in any orchid pot, you never know!

Dendrobium densiflorum, culture

A fully mature flower of Den. densiflorum

An inflorescence
Dendrobium densiflorum is an orchid that is widespread in the south of Asia. I got my plant from a friend that got tired of waiting for it to bloom. When I got the plant it had canes that were about a foot tall and had scars that showed that in the past, before my friend had it in his possession it had apparently bloomed. I put it in a pot made out of a plastic soda bottle and put it with my other Dendrobium without too much hope of ever seeing flowers. The plant initially had a measly root ball, but under my care it started producing a significant number of new roots. In 2005 it produced a cane larger than any before, this happened again in 2006 and 2007 when it produced a cane almost two feet long that dwarfed all previous canes. In 2007 it produced its first inflorescence. I suspect that even though the climate might not have been conductive to blooming, this plant was probably immature during the time my friend had it and what we took for inflorescence scars might have been aborted inflorescence buds, something that immature or weak plants sometimes produce. My plant is growing vigorously with routine care and hopefully in the future it will be strong enough to produce multiple inflorescences.

How do I cultivate it.

Light: Full sun most of the morning, dappled sunlight the rest of the day, but much care is taken that the plant is not so exposed as to get sunburn.Temperature: 85F day in summer with a 10F degree drop at night, 75F day between September and April with a 10F degree drop at night.

Watering: Daily when it is producing new growth, when new growth matures all supplemental watering is suspended and it only gets water when it rains.Fertilizer: Weekly diluted 20-20-20 when it is in full growth, none after the cane matures. Organic fertilizer is also used to help the canes to plump up.

Humidity: The climate supplies a humidity level from 70 to 80 percent during the day.

Media: Medium sized bark.Potting: The middle tube of a plastic soda bottle was used, the media was held in by a very open wire bottom that allows for decayed media to fall.

Repotting: The plant was allowed to become pot bound, but it is in need of re potting because the canes have begun to grow against the side of the pot.Seasonality: It gets little special care when not growing or blooming, it gets concentrated care when it is producing new growths as canes grow relatively fast.

This is a magnificent plant that is quite rewarding if you are able to give it the growing conditions it needs. Sadly the flowers are short lived and last only five to six days. I have another plant that was also labeled densiflorum but that has not bloomed even when it achieved a large size. However its canes are deeply furrowed which makes me think it may be thysiflorum. The thyrsiflorum plant grows very well and it’s very hardy but has not shown any inclination to bloom even after ten years under my care.

Pests: Snails and slugs may eat the tender canes but little else seems to bother this plant in my location. Unfortunately the bright color of the inflorescence seems to attract all the thrips in the local area and they will converge of the inflorescence and damage it if it is not protected. (I usually take the plant indoors when its in bloom). Unfortunately thrips seem to find these flowers so alluring that they will wallow through a thick slurry of Sevin dust to sink their thrice accursed mouth parts in the flower, they then die in transports of ecstasy all the while spoiling the flowers with their unsightly little bodies.

A link to the most recent blooming of this species in my collection

Habenaria monorrhiza, a native orchid of Puerto Rico


I took a longer than usual vacation this December and used the extra time to drive around and photograph orchids. One of the plants I found was Habenaria monorrhiza.Unlike most orchids this plant can be found growing in roadside ditches. I only found it at the higher elevation roadsides, in areas over 2500 feet in altitude. Supposedly it can grow at lower altitudes but I have never seen it in the lowlands. The plants I saw were small and few flowered. It is possible that I missed most plants in the population due to the tangle of growths in the roadsides at higher elevations. The orchids were not particularly hard to see but the many types of plants growing in the roadside plus the fact that there was a white flowered weed species flowering at the time, made spotting this plant somewhat difficult. This plant was seen near Orocovis, close to the geographical center of the island. I have never seen this plant in cultivation or in exhibition anywhere in the island so I suspect that it either dies in cultivation, local growers find it too plain to spend any time and effort growing it or most likely it is not recognized as being an orchid. This orchid should be enjoyed in its habitat and not collected.

Temperature: Possibly middle eighties during the day, down into the sixties or lower at night.

Substrate: It appeared to be dense waterlogged clay soil.

Lightning: Half the day full sunlight, the rest bright shadow.

Watering: Very wet, almost daily rain, lots of fog and drizzle.

Humidity: 100% at night, probably in the nineties during the day.Blooming: In autumn and winter (Ackermann, J. D., Orchids of PR and The Virgin Islands) apparently a few plant can be found in bloom at any time in the year.

Oncidium meirax, now Cyrtochilum meirax

Ondium meirax, an orchid native of Puerto Rico, now known as Cyrtochilum meirax

Plant growing in situ

The Sierra Palm forest, habitat of this orchid

Dona Juana waterfall, in the habitat of this orchid

I spent December 12, 13 and 14 of 2006, driving around the mountainous interior of the island of Puerto Rico. I am lucky enough to have a friend, J. Alvarez that doesn’t mind driving meanwhile I keep an eye out for orchids. I saw a great many plants, mostly Epidendrum, almost all without flowers. Wiggling through a heavily forested section of Palm forest I was lucky enough to find a fallen branch with some Oncidium plants in flower and in fruit. It is not often that I see these plants at all let alone in bloom. In my experience plants that hail from the Sierra Palm forest or the higher Elfin forest are doomed to die when cultivated in the lowland environment in Puerto Rico, they are best left in place. The plants die because the average grower in PR lacks the necessary equipment to provide the proper environment for these cloud forest ephiphytes.The Oncidium was found at an altitude of more than 3,500 feet in one of the highest peaks of the island of PR. The tree that harbored the plants was loaded with ephiphytes of all kinds as well as many plants of this Oncidium. The plants are in little danger of being collected due to the fact that the tree that harbors them grows alongside a dizzying high cliff. Reaching even the lowest branch means risking life and limb. Fortunately a broken branch was caught in a tangle of vines that prevented it from falling into oblivion. The plant was photographed in situ. Almost all plants had fruits and a few had flowers. The plants are tiny and easily confused with seedlings of the much more common Oncidium altissimun. The plants pseudobulbs and all are at most three to four inches tall. The inflorescenses are about three to four inches long. The plants are not conspicuous and the flowers are small and easily missed if you are not familiar with these orchids. The branch was sopping wet and mostly rotted, its surface loaded with fungi and sundry ephiphytes. No plants were seen in any of the trees that were near the host tree or in the palms. My books say this plant is Oncidium meirax.The area where the plant was found receives constant and precipitation almost year round in the form of rain, drizzle, and fog. The area where the plant was found is dominated by Sierra palm, with possibly thousands of palms growing together in dense strands. I kept to the edge of the forest because the ground was so slippery that there was the constant threat of falling. Given the steep mountain sides and the ubiquitous rocks I had to thread exceedingly carefully around the tree roots. Here are some of my observations.

Temperature: It can range from the high eighties in the middle of the day in the peak of summer to the middle fifties at night in the peak of winter. When I have visited the forest the temperatures have fluctuated between 65F and 80F.

Substrate: Sopping wet wood full of all manner of fungi and roots and other ephiphytes. Everything in the area was dripping water when I visited the spot.

Lightning: Very variable often going from one extreme of the spectrum to the other in manner of minutes. The plants are protected from the worst of it by the canopy of leaves of the host tree but since some of the plants I saw were growing high on the tree it is probable they are subjected to a constantly changing level of light exposure that went from very harsh direct sunlight to low diffused light when fog envelopes the forest.

Watering: It rains constantly, the area I visited probably get more than 160 inches of rain a year. Except for a few weeks during the dry season, it is probable these plants are drenched almost round the clock day in and day out.Humidity: 100% at night almost every night of the year. Probably close to 100% during the day for most of the year.Blooming: I found a few plants with flowers, I don’t know if this is this plant flowering season.The place was windy during my visit, it is clear from the shape of the trees that the area can get high winds with some regularity.

Maxillaria coccinea, in Puerto Rico's cloud forest

Maxillaria coccinea flowering in the Puertorican cloud forest

Many seedpods can be seen developing on the different inflorescences

Under the mother plant there are many seedlings growing between mosses
on the bare rock face.

A visit to Max. coccinea habitat

On April 7, 2007 I was in the Rio Grande area in some official business and sacrificed I my lunch hour to make a side trip to the Caribbean National Forest. I wanted to take a look at some orchids whose growth and development I have been observing for several years. The weather was rainy with spells of hard rain and fog interrupted by moments of strong sunlight and then back to rain again. The particular plants I wanted to see are easily reached but I had a hard time photographing them because of the rain. I also had to take in account the fact that the area where they grow was filled by an invasion, one could almost dare say an infestation, of tourists. I waited for moments when there were no tourists nearby to avoid drawing attention to the plants. I noticed to my dismay that some had disappeared. A large, almost four feet tall plant of Epidendrum longicarpum was gone, also missing were several good sized plants of Epidendrum borincanum. However the most surprising thing was that only very few plants of Lepanthes woodburyana could be located and the disappearance of Lepanthes sanguinea. These plants were abundant in the area and it used to be that with even with the slightest effort you could locate several plants of L. woodburyana a one or two of L. sanguinea. I have no idea why there were not there, it is extremely unlikely they were collected. Most of the other small flowered orchids were present in good numbers. Maxillaria coccinea is locally common and in favorable habitat is one of the plants most often found in fallen logs and branches. The goal of my visit was to photograph a plant in full bloom. It appears that I arrived slightly late in the season as I found a large number of pollinated flowers.The weather in the area where these M. coccinea thrive is very wet and every surface is covered with plant life of some sort. I know several people that have tried to cultivate the Puerto Rican Maxillaria coccinea, all have failed even though some have used quite ingenious methods to keep the plants in a level of humidity that would be conductive to their survival. It is unclear exactly why plants eventually deteriorate and die but the best guess I can make is that the plants needs a combination of very high humidity, mild temperatures and substrate that are almost impossible to replicate in the hot tropical lowlands without some sort of artificial means. These plants are found at an altitude of 3500 feet in an area that is a National Park and therefore they are safe from the typical threats of habitat destruction and over collection. The area where they grow is visited daily by hundreds, sometimes thousands of tourists but they are usually respectful of the rules and their impact in the area appears to be little. The plants are safe mainly due to the fact that the terrain is so treacherously slippery that most visitors are justly afraid of leaving the trails and having a deadly fall. This is not an idle consideration, in the past imprudent visitors have come to grisly ends by unwisely venturing into the slippery forest floor away from the trails.The plants are growing in an area that is protected from the sun most of the day but that does get full sun for a few hours in the afternoon. There are plants growing all over the place but there were few growing in exposed situations most are under the cover of bushes. The ones in deep shade are small and few flowered.The area where the plant was found receives constant and precipitation almost year round in the form of rain, drizzle, and fog. The area where these plants grow is dominated by sierra palms inter sped with many other kind of tress. Most of the trees are of small stature due to a combination of soil and climate factors.

Temperature: It can range from the high eighties in the middle of the day in the peak of summer to the middle fifties at night in the peak of winter. When I have visited the forest the temperatures have fluctuated between 65F and 75F.

Substrate: Trees, rotten logs, branches, and rocks.Lightning: Light to heavy shade, best growth and flowering in light shade. Watering: The area gets rain almost daily and the soil is saturated and never dries up.

Humidity: 100% at night and only slightly lower during the day.Blooming: I don’t know the blooming season of this species but in this visit many plants had flowers.

Light: A constantly shifting mixture of full sun and cloud filtered light, the orchids were under medium sized bushes that protected them from full sun but allowed a fair amount of light to stricke the orchids underneath.

Tetramica elegans in the southwest of Puerto Rico

Tetramica elegans habitat in Puerto Rico

Tetramica sp, a plant in an orchid collection, the yellow mark in the lip characteristic of elegans is apparently absent.

Tetramica elegans, wild plant

A flowering in the wild

Tetramica plants, growing in the shade of some low shrubs

On December 10 2006, I spent most of the day walking around in the Sierra Bermeja hills. This is a line of hills that go from east to west along western part the south coast of Puerto Rico. I wanted to see how many orchids in bloom I could find. When I visited these hills some twenty years ago I found Vanilla, Encyclia, Epidendrum, Psychilis and Tetramica plants. Unfortunately I found very few orchids in bloom. I saw just one plant of Psychilis, probably P. krugii but since it had no flowers it was impossible to say for sure. Most of what I found was a large number of invasive pioneer species. A huge area was completely dominated by a grass, Panicum maximum that was about five feet tall and made walking difficult. Not even a single orchid was found in the area dominated by the Panicum grass.

 After almost three hours of walking up and down a rugged hilly terrain we arrived at an area that mostly devoid of grass, with justa few tough, low, scrawny looking shrubs and low palm trees. In this spot, under the shrubs, were the Tetramicra plants. There was no soil visible just a rocky pavement. The Tetramicra plants were growing under the shrubs in a tangle of growths with most of the plants a few inches over the gravel. The plants roots were thick and whitish. The roots held the plants in a stilt like way, two to three inches over the gravel, it appears the roots went some way under the gravel. Most plants seemed to have only two or three roots under each growth. Although there were dozens, if not hundreds, of growths under each shrub, very few were in bloom in the area I examined.  

The plants are dull colored and hard to see. Most of the plants are quite small, two or three inches tall and showed no sign of having bloomed. The plants I found in bloom were four to five inches tall. The inflorescences were about a foot tall and raised the blooms just barely over the surrounding vegetation. Two of the inflorescences had branches but only one of the branches was blooming. Although it seems there are probably many thousands of plants in the area I visited it is probable that they were more widespread in the past in the area invaded by the Panicum grass. I talked for a while with a local denizen and he remarked that the spread of the grass has been probably due to wetter weather that usual in the area. He also said that there had been some large fires in the grassy area. Another area person said that the grass had invaded some areas of the hills that used to be almost bare loose gravel. I suspect that human activity in the form of cutting down native vegetation, might have been an important factor in allowing the grass to dominate the area so completely.

 By the time my group reached the area where the Tetramica grew it was late in the day and I had little time to make habitat observations. Here are some of these observations.Temperature: Temperatures can reach into the high nineties in summer during the day. Between December and February night temperatures can go down to the low sixties, most often, night temperatures are in the middle seventies range.  Substrate: Loose gravel composed of angular pebbles, the plants were growing over the gravel with the roots going into crevices and cracks in the rocks and gravel. Light: This spot gets very harsh full tropical sunlight, with little relief from clouds for prolonged spells as the area has a pronounced dry season. However the plants are growing under bushes where they get some protection from the sun.  Watering. Although this particular area has a seasonally wet and dry season, there is a nearby lagoon that supplies some humidity to in the form of fog year round.  Blooming: In volume four of Withner’s book series about Cattleya relatives, Tetramica elegans is said to bloom between January and March. This might explain the scarcity of blooming specimens during my visit.

Dendrobium culture: anosmum and its relatives

Dendrobium anosmum, when cultured so that they can hang down as they do in nature, can produce quite a show. Here are ten plants hanging from the roof of the terrace of my house. The fragrance was delicious, strong and could be perceived for quite some distance due to the large number of flowers open at the same time.

These plants are growing in a shade house, notice the large number of blooms per cane.

When fed well, given strong light and ample watering, Den. anosmum can produce impressively large leaves.

Den. anosmum growing in a pot made out of a plastic soda bottle. Note the large size of the plant in comparison with the pot in which it is growing. If you see the older canes you will notice that they are all smaller than the new one, this is a clue that this is a relatively young plant.

The bottom of the pot was sealed with a piece of saran shade cloth, the roots grew over the saran and into the media, notice the white color of the new roots a clear sign of health.

As a fanatic of pendent dendrobiums, I have had quite a lot of experience growing these lovely but at times very frustrating plants. Perhaps the most difficult problem I have had with these type of Dendrobium has been finding out by trial and error that some of the most beautiful species will not grow and flower under my climatic conditions. When I got them, in the dim prehistory of the pre-Internet era, there was not much information available locally on growing particular species of Dendrobium. Nowadays there is such an enormous amount of information on the Internet that a little detective work using the various search engines for finding out the proper growing conditions of the particular species you like will go a long way toward avoiding dissapointment. The pendent Dendrobium species find agreeable my local climatic conditions grow vigorously and flower abundantly. In the next lines I will share some of my experiences with these plants. My experience has been with Adrasta, aduncum, anosmun, aphyllum, loddiggessii, nobile, parishii, primulinum and tortile among others.

Light: These plants love high light and benefit from some hours of full sun, some can even stand full midday sun without complaint, however exposing the base of the canes to full sun is deathly for these plants. The base of the canes will die if sunburned, and eventually the plant will die too. It is a perplexing and surprising experience when your plant suddenly becomes a group of live canes held together by a dead base.

Watering: Everyday at the height of the growing season, drenching the pots until water flows out. When leaves start turning yellow I stop watering, (around December), when flower buds appear, in the middle of February locally I resume watering.

Fertilizing: Heavy, on plants potted upside down I put some pieces of horse manure on top of the pot.

Potting: I no longer pot my pendent dendrobiums in the top of pots, I pot them in the bottom of wire baskets and pots I make out of soda pop bottles. I started potting them upside down because I became extremely frustrated with the fact that plants eventually weighted so much they would tip the pots and make watering and fertilizing difficult. Plants can stay in these pots for many years. The first plant I potted in a soda pop bottle fifteen years ago is still growing in the same pot.

Media: These plants seem to be able to grow on anything as long as it allows for oxygenation of the roots. Every year I hose off the decayed material and add fresh one. I have used sphagnum moss, bark of all sizes, glass marbles, wood chips, tree fern, charcoal, etc. As long as the plant gets watered and fertilized appropriately for the material it seems to make no difference.Since a picture is worth a thousand words here are some showing how I pot my plants.

Grammatophyllum speciosum

Grammatophyllum speciosum, this is a picture of the adult plant 
as it was when it produced its first inflorescence.
Grammatophyllum speciosum produces imperfect flowers near the base of the inflorescence, this may alarm those growers that are not aware of this particular trait of this genus. Flowers that are away from the base are normal.

The lip of the normal flower

This is the normal flower of Grammatophyllum speciosum

I got this plant of Grammatophyllum speciosum as a gift in June 1997. It was a two cane seedling, the largest cane was about two inches tall. It was a gift from Donato Segui. During the first few years, when it still relatively small I used to lavish care on it. But as it grew and became bigger and bigger, I started to care for it less. Eventually it ended up in the garden where it was planted in a pedestal made out of rock.

Last year a car hit the pedestal and destroyed it. The plant suffered only a slight damage but I had to drag it away from the spot where it was growing to where it s now.  Perhaps the change of place triggered flowering and it bloomed after this event.  It started flowering early in March, eleven years after I received it.

The flowers of this plant look somewhat different from the type of Gramm. speciosum that seems to be common in botanical collections. It is greener and has less maroon color. A google search located a photo of a plant almost identical to mine. It is growing in the Khao Yai National Park in Thailand.The parent of this plant was brought to Puerto Rico around the middle of the last century by a college professor, Dr. Juan A. Rivero. He apparently acquired the plant during a visit to South East Asia. 

For many years Dr. Rivero's plant was as far as I know the only one in the west of the island. In the middle nineties he selfed his plant and grew many seedlings. These seedlings were sold by a nursery in Cabo Rojo. There are several of these plants around the west of the island that still survive. Under my care this plant has been found to be fairly undemanding, and practically plague free. In my locality the climate supplies most of this plant’s growing needs as far as water, humidity and temperature.This orchid forms large clumps that can reach amazing sizes, a gigantic one that weighted about two tons was exhibited in Britain in the Crystal Palace in 1851 and was one of the centerpieces of that year’s exhibition.

Media: Bark, after the root basket formed, none.

Potting: First on well drained plastic pots, then on a very strong metal basket.

Fertilizing: 20-20-20 when it was in a pot. When it was large enough to put in a wire basket I stopped giving it liquid fertilizer and started pouring two or three cups of horse manure on top of the root ball at the start of the growing season and kept replacing it as it degraded and got washed away by the rain.

Light: Full morning sun, light shade after midday, It gets this regime because it is what is available on the only spot that I had to put this plant.

Temperature: From 95F high during the day in summer to 60F during the night in winter. Said to withstand temperatures down to 45F.

Care: Staking up the canes when necessary to allow the grass mower to pass. It is important to keep checking for the snails and slugs that may attack the inflorescence as soon as they get the slightest whiff of its existence. Regular grooming to remove dead canes and to keep the plant tidy go a long way toward helping this plant stay healthy.