Friday, November 12, 2010

Phaiocalanthe Kryptonite an easy to grow terrestrial orchid


Four inflorescesces of Phaiocalanthe Kryptonite 'Ursula'

Phaiocalanthe Kryptonite 'Chariots of Fire'

Phaiocalanthe Kryptonite 'Ursula'  an almost fully expanded flower

Phaiocalanthe Kryptonite 'Ursula'  newly opened flower.

A fully expanded, several days old flower
I have a wide variety of orchid genera, all of which delight me with their lovely colors and wonderful fragrances. These genera vary enormously in their cultural needs and ease of care. If one were to rank them according to the amount of care they need Phaiocalanthe Kryptonite would rank as one of the less demanding of all my orchids. However, it is after all an orchid, and because of this it does have certain quirks that need to be accommodated if one is to get the best possible performance this particular plant. In the next few paragraphs I will detail some of the things I have learned from cultivating this Phaiocalanthe.

I grow my plants on the east side of the house. There they get full morning sun filtered through the leafy branches of some huge teak trees and then shade from around 11 am until sundown. I can vary the amount of sun the plants get by moving them farther or closer to the shaded area under the teak trees. In general the plants do better in bright light but the leaves burn and become marked and unsightly when exposed to the full midday sun. So the key here is experimenting carefully with the amount of full sun that the plants can tolerate in your locale. My experience has been that plants grown in the shade will look wonderful but bloom weakly and with few flowers. Plants grown with some morning exposure to the sun will grow and bloom well but the leaves can develop some light spotting. Plants exposed to full sun for many hours bloom the best but look awful with ragged yellowish leaves full of dead spots. Some of my friends deal with this problem by cutting the leaves when the inflorescence is just about to open its first flowers. I have never done this but it might be worthwhile if you want to exhibit the plants in a special setting where the damaged leaves would detract from the beauty of the flowers. I have no idea how this affects the vigor of the plant but my guess is that it might weaken the plant and shorten the blooming period. This however is just a guess. I try to balance the desire for many flowers with the need to keep the leaves presentable. I am not always successful at sticking a perfect balance but most of the time my plants do well enough.

In my location the plants are exposed to temperatures that range from 95F in the most sweltering part of the summer to 55F for a brief span of time at the peak of the tropical winter. My plants seem indifferent to local variations in temperature and grow as well in summer as in winter as long as they are cared appropriately.

Humidity in my location ranges from 70 to 100%. At the peak of the rainy season, in summer, the plants can get thoroughly soaked every day for several months. In the peak of the dry season it can go for a whole month with no precipitation and humidity can drop to 40% at midday. In the dry season my plants are watered once or twice a week and seem equally at home sopping wet as with a marked wet and dry cycle and its attendant fluctuations in humidity.

When the plants are in their growing phase I water them every two or three days depending on the weather. As long as the plant is growing I like to keep their media wet, not moist or evenly moist, wet, wet, wet. When the new growth has reached full size I cut down on watering and in the dry season I might stop watering them if the plant has shed its leaves and become dormant.

Some people I know give their plants liquid fertilizer on a regular weekly or monthly basis, I don’t do this. I incorporate the fertilizer in the potting media and this takes care of my plant’s fertilizer needs.

Since these plants are terrestrial I plant them in a suitable terrestrial media. I mix my own media but they can grow with varying degrees of success in most potting soils. This is the composition of the media I use to pot this orchid. One fourth of the mix is compost from my own compost pile. I have an eight foot tall roll of metal close to my kitchen door and every day I deposit on it kitchen scraps, along old newspapers, waster paper, shredded bank statements and just about everything organic that can be composted except meat and lard. It smells very little and thank to a veritable army of local anolis lizards it mostly fly free. Half the potting mixture is composed of red lateritic soil, this sound exotic but this type of soil is available in practically unlimited quantities all around my house. The last ingredient to the mix is one fourth of manure, horse of cow work equally well. I also add a bit of sand to the mix to keep it from compacting too much. I mix all this in a tub of about twenty gallons, I mix only the amount I am going to use at the time.

Phaiocalanthe Kriptonite is simple to cultivate and only makes modest demands of care during the year but there is one thing that this plant really needs to do well. Unless they are repotted each year in fresh media my plants start to decline, lose vigor and size, and start blooming poorly. I think the reason for this is that these plants are such voracious feeders that they exhaust their soil of nutrients in a single season.

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