Friday, December 16, 2011

Laeliocattleya Drumbeat 'Heritage' HCC/AOS a stunning 'classical Cattleya'

A particularly nice blooming with three large, very symetrical flowers.

 When most people talk about orchids, the one that is in their mind’s eye is the classical large lavender hybrid Cattleya.  This image is so culturally ingrained that even people that have only the slightest knowledge about orchids will instantly recognize the type.   Even in the orchid world, where people will often ignore large flowered hybrids to fuss a coo around a rare tiny flowered species,  Cattleya still hold their ground as a sort of cultural compass . “ Grow it like a Cattleya” is an advice that is so common as to be in the same level as “tastes like chicken”.
Back in the nineties my collection of orchids was composed mostly of species (as it still is) and I had only a few small flowered Cattleya species .  I started looking for a large flowered Cattleya because I wanted the kind of orchid that my mother, who was not particularly interested in “botanical” orchids (the smaller and weirder types which “only a botanist would love”), would enjoy.  After doing some research on lavender Cattleya I decided that the one that seemed the best option was Lc. Drumbeat ‘Heritage’.  This plant has large flowers with an excellent shape and I was sure it would grow well under my climatic conditions.  To me Lc. Drumbeat ‘Heritage’ embodies the best characteristics that people associate with a classical lavender Cattleya.
I brought it from Housermann’s Orchids as a relatively large plant as I didn’t want to wait years for it to bloom.   Having learned, from bitter experience, that potting Cattleya in bark in plastic pots was a recipe for disaster under my local conditions, I potted it in a wire basket I made myself.  The basket was filled with stones and a few of the the hardest pieces of wood I could find.  The key feature of this arrangement was that the plant’s roots would have a very well aireated mix that would drain quickly and would not have, even under the wettest conditions imaginable, pockets where the air would not reach.  This is an important item as Cattleya roots need to breathe and decay quickly under anaerobic conditions.
The orchid grew vigorously right from the start and bloomed very well.  Since then it has bloomed every year for the last thirteen years, an impressive record considering that it has had its up and downs.  Since the leaves can grow quite large, this is not a plant for growers with limited space.  I fertilize this plant only when it is producing new growths, the rest of the year it gets plain water.  It is very important to fertilize appropriately when this plant is growing, the quality of the flowers is mightily influenced by the size of the mature pseudobulb.
But getting a good display of flowers from this plant is a bit tricky as you have to find the right combination of sun, watering and fertilizing that will bring out the best results under your own conditions.  My plant produces the largest flowers when it is under strong light with a fair bit of direct sunlight in the morning.   I have my plant in a spot where it gets the strongest light it can tolerate short of getting sunburned.  This has the unfortunate result that the leaves look yellowish and might have a spot of sunburn of two.  But the resultant flowers are so impressive that few people look at the leaves.
The best combination of size, color and presentation occurs when the plant is under conditions where it produces three flowers.  My plant generally produces three flowers on each new pseudobulb but it has also occasionally produced two and four at a time.  When it produces two flowers at time they are typically of an enormous size, quite a bit larger than normal, but presentation suffers as the flowers tend to be crowded and particularly the very large size of the petals means the flower are pressed closely together and don’t look their best.  Perhaps if I would take the time to gently and carefully separate the blooms so that they are far enough apart so that they can unfold fully without bumping into each other the flowers would much look better.  When it has produced four flowers the flowers are undersized and the fourth flower, at the tip of the inflorescence is much smaller than the others and sometimes misshapen and oddly colored.  The first time this happened I was dismayed and feared that the plant had become virused.  But when the plant bloomed again the next year the flowers were totally normal.
When this plant starts its growing season, I give it a high nitrogen fertilizer diluted according to the instructions on the label.  I pay close attention to the new growth as it is most vulnerable to damage when it is still young.  I water the plant every two to five days when it is in full growth depending on how dry the mix is, because my plants are outside and get drenched every time it rains (which can be every afternoon at the height of summer) sometimes I don’t need to give them supplemental watering for months. 
The most critical time, in my view, is when this orchid is developing its roots.  Root loss has been my bane when dealing with Cattleya, they tolerate wetness, drought and sundry pests, but if they lose their roots bringing them back is an uphill battle and the plant health deteriorates significantly.  So when the roots are developing I am extremely vigilant in regard to snails and slugs and will use, with the proper precautions, the various ways that are in the market to send slugs and snails to the great and happy lettuce leaf in the sky.
Another thing to watch for is the various insects that attack the leaves.  White flies can be persistent but they are very easy to control.  I keep a small spray bottle of rubbing alcohol and whenever I spot a some white flies trying to establish a colony a few spritzes take care of the situation in seconds.  Scale insects are more devious and harder to control, the key here is to eradicate them when they are few in number.  I carefully rub them off the plant taking care not to damage the leaf.  A bit of rubbing alcohol helps finish the deed.  Every month I take some time to check over the plants.  This is a practice that will go far in keeping your plants pest free, or as pest free as you can get if you grow them outside like I do.
I can’t give repotting advice on this plant for the simple reason that I have never repotted it.  It is still growing in the same basket where I planted it sixteen years ago.  It has gone across it and around it several times.  The original organic material in the mix decayed completely many years ago.  The plant is now growing in a mass that is composed of the remains of old roots and the rocks, which are still there but totally covered with mosses and old and new roots.
This orchid has been meristemmed and seedlings are available in many places, at times at surprisingly affordable prices.  One thing about this plant that is seldom commented upon is its fragrance.  It is the typical sweet Cattleya fragrance and I really enjoy it.  I have the impression that the flowers are particularly fragrant in the middle to late morning.  If you are looking for a lavender Cattleya and have ample space available, Lc. Drumbeat is one of the best alternatives. 

In the photos below, first photo:  A two flowered inflorescence, note the particularly large size of the petals, second photo;  A three flowered inflorescence with narrow petals.   Third photo; A four flowered inflorescence (see text) showing the somewhat oddly shaped flower with streaks of color reminiscent of virus symptoms.


Unknown said...

The blooming of my catleyas are coming up empty, without the flowers. What do you think I am doing wrong. Thank you for your blog and for sharing your experiences with the orquids.


Anonymous said...

This one only has an HCC if I remember correctlu