Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Stanhopea panamensis N.H. Williams & Whitten 1988,
I got this Stanhopea orchid many years ago as a two bulb division, it was a gift from a friend. I planted it in a basket filled with small pieces of coconut husk. I watered and fertilized it weekly. Under the climatic conditions in Aguadilla the plant grew slowly. Originally this plant was in a garden of my mother’s house, which is in Aguadilla, in the northern coast of Puerto Rico and about a mile from the Atlantic Ocean. This part of Puerto Rico is characterized by often windy conditions as well as warm to hot weather. In these environmental conditions the plant didn’t do too well, probably because I was watering it less than it needs in this warm climate.
When I moved to Arecibo, to a location about 1,000 feet above the sea, the plant started doing much better. To me the main reason is that in this location it rains more than in Aguadilla, but maybe it helps that the new location is cooler. During spring, summer and fall the media in which this orchid is growing stays moist just from the water it gets from rain. During some particularly rainy periods it remains wet for weeks or even months. Sometimes it rains so much that the media becomes absolutely waterlogged. I these very rainy times, here and there, patches of white cottony fungus appear in the media. However the plant doesn’t seem to be bothered by the fungus. The fungus dies off when drier weather returns. The climatic conditions in this part of Arecibo are more moderate than in Aguadilla and it hardly gets as hot. Only for a few months in the summer the temperatures in my location in Arecibo become hot during the day.
In Arecibo, this orchid grew into a large and heavy plant, but it would not bloom. The plant was moved to a sunnier spot than it had been growing and it eventually bloomed. I thought I had found the perfect spot for this plant among my pendent Dendrobium, but this conclusion was produced by the fact that I moved the Stanhopea with them in the spring. Because of the movement of the sun along the horizon during the seasons, the Dendrobium shadehouse is sheltered from exposure to full sunlight for most of the day during spring and summer. But in fall and winter, the shadehouse receives full sunlight for many hours. This is ideal for the pendent Dendrobium but the Stanhopea could not cope with so many hours of direct sun. As a result of the increased exposure to sunlight the Stanhopea lost all its leaves, happily the pseudobulbs were not harmed and the plant recovered quickly. I had to experiment a bit to find the right place for this plant, one where it would bloom well but not get its leaves sunburned. Presently my plant is in a place where it gets unfiltered sunlight until 10 am and dappled sunlight for the rest of the day.
In my garden this plant blooms in the summer, however it has also produced inflorescences at other times of the year, even in December, at the start of winter. For some reason, every year it aborts one or two inflorescences when they are about half developed, it is not clear why that happens as it usually has other inflorescences at the same time that develop normally. The inflorescences take six or seven weeks from the time I find them poking out of the media to the time the flowers open. The inflorescences my plant produced carry from four to seven flowers. The flowers last around three days. The fragrance is reminiscent of chocolate. My plant cannot be classified as a prolific bloomer.
The media in which this plant was originally planted decayed a long time ago. The plant now has a root ball that grips the remains of the bark that I used the last time I refreshed the media. Any kind of repotting is out of question as Tthe roots grow in all directions, sometimes even upwards, any attempt to remove it from the basket to change the media would result in severe root damage. The plant produces new growths along the edges of older pseudobulbs, which are on top of the basket. But in early in 2013, a new growth popped out from the side of the basket, about two inches under the top of the media. This new growth has been developing normally, and even produced an inflorescence in spite of being smaller that the full grown bulbs on top of the basket.
This orchid is doesn’t need much attention with two exceptions. One is that it resents underwatering, the other is that the basket where it is growing is a veritable weed magnet. In the rainy season I have to weed the basket to prevent the weed growth from becoming too heavy. Among the most persistent weeds are the ferns and begonias.
In Puerto Rico Stanhopeas have never been particularly common orchids in local collections. Having said that I can attest that particularly knowledgeable growers have been growing them for many years. I saw my first Stanhopea plant at an open house of the Universidad de Puerto Rico in Mayaguez about thirty four years ago. The plant was the property of Dr. Rivero.