Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cattleya Hardyana, a beautiful and fragrant unifoliate Cattleya hybrid

A semi alba form of Hardyana
A four flowered inflorescence sadly marred by damage inflicted by birds
The flowering growth in its initial stages of development

The media in this basket has decayed to the point that it hold enough water to sustain the growth of mosses, ferns and even fig seedlings.  This plant will be repotted after it blooms, when the new pseudobulbs start sending out roots
A different semi alba clone with smaller flowers

Particularly strong plants can produce five flowers in an inflorescence.  Unfortunately this inflorescence was not groomed or trained and the flowers became all bunched.
Cattleya Hardyana is a hybrid of two of the most outstanding species in the Cattleya Alliance.  It is hybrid of Catt. warscewiczii and Cattleya dowiana.  Unlike the vast majority of orchid hybrids in cultivation this plant is known as a natural hybrid and has been found many times in nature.  Given the fact that this orchid is a hybrid between two species, one would expect that the plants would be relatively uniformly in appearance, but this is not necessarily true for the plants collected from the wild.  In the wild not only the parent species cross, the hybrid sometimes also crosses with itself and back with the parental species.  All this promiscuous introgression produces a syngameon in which you can find flowers that range from those almost indistinguishable from the parental species to those that are significantly distinct from both the parents.  As a result of all this genetic exchange and sorting in the wild, in the previous two centuries a number of forms of this plant were found and described.  It used to be a very popular orchid and it was present in most collections.  But for some reason the popularity of this plant started to wane toward the end of the twenty century.  Withner in his book Cattleyas and its relatives Vol 1, says that this plant used to be common in collections but that by the time he was writing the book (middle eighties) it had become rare.
In my experience this plant was indeed pretty uncommon until a few years ago, I never saw one in flower until my own plants bloomed.  Nowadays this hybrid has been recreated by a few orchid vendors and small seedlings can be found at quite reasonable prices.     Unlike some of the wild collected Hardyanas of yore, today plants are the result of a single crossing between the pure species.   
I heartily recommend this plant to all Cattleya fanatics.  This plant has many merits not the least of which is the fact that acquiring a plant of this hybrid won’t cost you a fortune.   If you a want a top of the line Catt. warscewiczii, the cost of such a plant might be in the thousands of dollars.  It has the wonderful virtue of being much easier to culture than the Catt. dowiana parent which I have found to be a difficult plant to keep in good shape.  Another important detail is that the new incarnations of this plant are being made with select forms which means they are probably better that those produced by a chance combination of wild plants.  In this case my personal experience can be illustrative, I brought three seedlings and to my delight all of them came out as semi-albas instead of the typical lilac color that I was expecting.  I now have two more seedlings made using the dowiana var. Rosita as a parent so I expect these seedlings to be different from my older plants.
Culturing this plant has proven to be simple and problem free as long as one follows certain simple guidelines.  My plants seem to be less sensitive to variations in their growing conditions that some of the fancier Cattleya hybrids that I have.  However there seems to be some slight differences in vigor between the seedlings I have grown.
This is what I have learned from years of cultivating this plant:
Media: Large chunks of decay resistant material seem to be the best media to use with this plant although my plants have tolerated relatively compacted decayed media.  But my plants are all growing in wire baskets which guarantee that the roots will have access to oxygen even in a mildly compacted media.  The most important thing here is that the media in which the plant is growing has to provide perfect drainage and not allow for pockets of anoxic media.

Potting: Three of my plants are in custom made wire baskets, two are in pots with just enough chucky media to prevent them from wobbling in the pot.  The plants seem to be doing equally well although the ones in the baskets have smaller root systems.
Watering:  Once or twice a week in the dry season, the plants are soaked and then allowed to dry before being watered again.  In the summer, because I live in a place that has the tropical rain pattern, the plants get heavy rain in the afternoon every single day.  This means they experience a soaking wet to dry cycle every day for several months .

Fertilizing: 20-20-20 every week during the growing season.  Feeding this plant conscientiously during its growing season is the key for producing the large pseudobulbs that are the key to blooming in this species.   My Hardyana plants sometimes produce a non blooming growth after the summer, I give this pseudobulbs the same care that the winter-spring pseudobulbs get.  A very strong plant sometime produces two lead growths. 

Light: Full morning sun, light shade after midday, The plants which receive the higher light level bloom best.

Temperature: From 95F high during the day in summer to 60F during the night in winter. 
A characteristic of this orchid that I think greatly enhances its appeal is its wonderful fragrance.  Even a single plant can fill the garden with its fragrance, which is stronger around midmorning.  To me is more reminiscent of the fragrance of the warscewiczii parent than that of the dowiana parent.   The exquisite fragrance of dowiana is in a league of its own, but I digress.   
In my experience the only things that can bring the death of this plant are the hard brown scale and root loss caused by a waterlogged anoxic media.  Getting rid of the scales can be a frustrating endeavor as it can be difficult to get kill all of them even after several treatments.
Once a plant has lost its roots the remains of the stem can succumb to a host of other diseases that hardly ever bother healthy plants.  When this happens to Hardyana, one needs to offer the pseudobulbs that survive a humid environment until they are able to regenerate the root system.  Some Cattleya plants can sulk for years before showing signs of improvement.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just wonderful xhardyana you have! Well done! I'm trying to get one myself, but they are not common over here.

Arturo, Spain