Thursday, October 21, 2010
Peristeria elata, the Holy Ghost Orchid
Peristeria elata is one of my favorite orchids because of its beauty and the tiny mimicry of a dove that is created by shape the column and the lip of the flower. I tried to grow Peristeria elata a number of times in the past and every time my plants would grow to a tremendous size, but then they would fail to bloom even after years of devoted care. I would eventually lose the plants mostly to neglect once it was clear they would not bloom ever. This was very frustrating for me since the culture of this plant is not that difficult. I Eventually found out why I never got flowers from my plants, the key was provided paradoxically by a plant that would not bloom for its previous owner.
I was at an orchid show a few years ago and in a vendor's stall I spied the largest Peristeria plant I had ever seen. The pseudobulbs were enormous, each significantly larger than my clenched fist. I asked the vendor for the plant and heard a familiar story, in spite of excellent care, the plant would not bloom. I asked for the price in a distant, not very interested way and the vendor told me that since he was tired of devoting bench space to a non blooming plant, I could have it for $20.00. In a second I had brought the plant.
But this time around I did things differently with the culture of the plant. When the dry season started I stopped watering it. Even though the pseudobuls became wrinkled I resisted the temptation to water. Also no fertilizer was given to the plant. In addition to these measures, now I was living at a higher elevation than when I had my previous plants and every night in the dry season the plant would experience a 10F to 15F degrees temperature drop.
Nothing happened with this plant and for months on end it showed no sign of blooming or growing.
Then in the summer of 2007, I saw two green tips coming out of the base of one of the bulbs. One was clearly a new growth but the other appeared to be an inflorescence. As the weeks went by I was delighted with the fact that the plant appeared to be on its way to produce a very large inflorescence. The inflorescence topped out at four feet and a half and produced the largest Peristeria flowers I had ever seen. Impressively large and opening more widely than any Peristeria flowers I had seen previously, the flowers were a delight to the eye. They were also powerfully fragrant. They were so fragrant that the fragrance started getting a but cloying. The plant bloomed several years in a row and then I had to repot and divide it because it had filled its pot. I expect the divisions to start blooming next year.
So what is what I learned about this plant? I learned that for this plants I need to emulate their natural seasonal cycle to trigger blooming. In my case giving the plant year round watering and fertilizer will produce amazing plants but no flowers.
This orchid is the national flower of Panama and it is sadly endangered in the wild from overcolletion. But it is easily available in the market. If you have the time,the space and the appropiate growing conditions this is a good plant to grow and on the plus side it is also a handsome foliage plant that when well grown resembles a seedling coconut palm.