Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Cattleya dowiana var. aurea, the second plant that has bloomed for me.

The flowers, when freshly opened

This Cattleya has a reputation for being difficult to grow and bloom.  In my personal experience I can attest this plant is indeed a bit finicky.  All the plants I have grown have reacted in different ways to my care.  My first plant grew well and bloomed, only to die from rot during the rainy season.  It rotted with such startling speed, there was nothing I could do to save it.  The second plant I adquired, has been growing slowly and indifferently for a number of years and has yet to produce a blooming size pseudobulb.  The third plant has been growing well and was the one that bloomed on its first fully adult size pseudobulb.  The plant has been grown under saran cloth, watered very thoroughly once a week and fertilized every week but only when it was producing new growths.  It is growing in a mix of medium bark and limestone.  The temperatures where this plant is being grown are 85F/30C during the day most of the year, and 75F/24C at night.  In winter temperatures dip slightly being 75F/24C day and 65F/18C at night in the coldest part of the year.

The flowers lasted in perfection for five days.  In the fifth day the oldest flower collapsed, the other two flowers became limp during the next two days.  This confirms this plant reputation for relatively short lived flowers for a Cattleya.  The fragrance of the flowers was quite powerful and to my senses resembled certain types of fragrant soaps.

My experience growing this plant makes me think that you might want to try plants from a variety of sources before giving up on this species, as different plants seem to differ in their tolerance of the various environmental and climatic conditions.  

In Puerto Rico flowering size plants of this species are not common in orchid collections, although it is not rare to see seedlings from time to time. I have noted that it is rarely exhibited, althought this might have more to do with the flowers being short lived rather than with how common the plant is under cultivation

The flowers, just before they started collapsing, note that they look yellower
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Bulbophyllum tingabarinum Garay, Hammer, Siegrist 1994, on bloom in July.

I brought thisplant at a 2012 meeting of the Orquidistas de Puerto Rico, group that originated in Facebook.  I wanted it because I was seduced by the beauty of the photos of this plant in the group.  You can see these photos in Flickr, just look for PiotrM photostream and be prepared for your mind to be blown away.
 I found the plant surprisingly small given the size of the flowers.  Initally my plant had a few pseudobulbs, only two of which seemed to be large enough to bloom.  At home I put it in a spot where it could get full morning sunlight up to 10 am and the rest of the day it got the dappled sunlight that filtered through the canopy of trees that surround my house.  The plant didn't do anything until February 2013.  Then it started producing new growths with impressive vigor.  Unfortunately this period of the year is in the start of the dry season in locality.  So everyday I had to drench the plant so that it would not abort the new growths due to lack of moisture.  I also fertilized it after every watering with a weak fertilizer, I waited until the water had stopped dripping to fertilize the plant. 

By May the plant had finished producing pseudobulbs.  In late June I saw the first signs of an inflorescence, the first one opened its flowers in July 26.   The plant has opened three inflorescences and two more are on their way.  The bright color of the flowers is quite eye catching.  If its performance so far turns out to be the norm, this Bulbophyllum with become my third most floriferous Bulbophyllum plant, the champion is Bulb. lepidum and on second place is Bulb. blumei.

Until recently I had never seen these plants in local collections.  However in the last year a number of my friends have adquired this plant.  Given that we live in different locations it will be interesting to see how this species performs under the various conditions.

Domingoa haematochila (Rchb. f.) Carabia 1943, photo from the 2013 visit

In 2012 I visited Mona Island and was able to take photos of Domingoa haematochila plants near the Sardinera camping area.  Unfortunately the plants there were small and in poor shape.  Also my camera died on my second day on the island and I had to use a camera loaned to me by a friend.  I knew there were far larger and healthier plants in the interior of the island, but getting there is a challenging and dangerous endeavour, even for a trained biologist.  Happily I was allowed to tag along a group of botanist that planned to go deep into the island interior.  The botanist set a punishing fast walking pace in their hike because they wanted to get as far into the island as possible before the temperatures became dangerous.  How high did the temperature climb?  By 1:00 pm the bare limestone was at a toasty 136F/58C, our boots were themselves at 100F/38C.  The hair at the top of the head of one of the botanist was at 103F/40C.  It was some strenous walking and I spent most of the time drenched in sweat, but I managed to get some good photographs of large plants with flowers in good condition (with my new camera Yeah!).

The conditions in the limestone plateau of Mona Island are incredibly harsh for human beings but some orchids have evolved the capacity to grow and even thrive under them.  However there are spots here and there on the island where the ecosystem provides for microclimates that are less extreme, it is in these spots that Domingoa grows best.  However you can find plant of Domingoa in places in the island where conditions are difficult and don't allow for large plants.

This plant is very rare in cultivation locally.  Mostly due to the fact that local growers prefer large flowered orchids but also due to the fact that most growers here are unfamiliar with native orchids.  Given that this plant grows in a habitat the is inimical to human life, it doesn't at present faces any threat to its survival.