Friday, February 24, 2023

The Orchid a book by Lauren Gardiner and Phillip Cribb, a beautiful book with 40 botanical prints


This book is my birthday present to myself.   Why I brought it?  Because its beautiful.  The authoritative text is the frosting on top of the cake.  Along with the book there are 40 botanical prints.  The orchids in the prints are described in the text.  The prints are suitable for framing. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Myrmecophila culture: Why my plant won't bloom? A checklist of possible causes

The most common question I get asked about Myrmecophila orchids is “why won’t my plant bloom?” I have decided to make a checklist of the reasons Myrmecophila might not bloom. This will help guide you to find the way to make your plants bloom. 

1. Is the plant adult sized? Myrmecophilas are plants that in the wild live in a symbiotic relationship with ants that live inside their hollow pseudobulbs. These ants fertilize the plant with their feces. Plants in cultivation that don’t have ant colonies might become stunted and never reach adult size. So the first thing is to get an ID the plant and check on the size of an adult pseudobulb. If the pseudobulbs are smaller than the reported size for the species they you need to make sure you fertilize this plant with a high nitrogen fertilizer and give it plenty of water when it is producing new pseudobulbs. 
2. Is it getting enough sunlight? Myrmecophilas are not plants that bloom in shady spots. They will grow well, and might eventually produce a large clump of pseudobulbs. But they will not bloom. If a plant is an adult and is not blooming, the next thing to check it if it is getting the level of light it needs. I have seen Myrmecophilas growing quite well in places where they get full sun for most of the day. Personally, I put my plants close to the shade cloth, I grow them under a shade cloth that allows most of sunlight to come through. The best plants I have seen were grown with full exposure morning or afternoon sun, but protected from the midday sun by shade cloth or the canopy of a tree. 

 3. Is it in the proper location for blooming? Myrmecophilas are often planted on trees with dense canopies. This keeps the plants in shade. They will grow well but not bloom. A friend had a massive plant of Myr humboltii growing in a citrus tree. It had never produced a single flower. A hurricane severely damaged the canopy of the tree, allowing full sunlight to reach the Myrmecophila. As a result, the plant bloomed. 

 4. Is it receiving the care it needs at the critical time in its growth cycle? Most people I know affix their Myrmecophilas to a tree and that is that. No watering, except for rain, or fertilizing, except what it gets naturally from the tree or from ants if they have colonized the plant. This is a hit or miss approach. Some plants will grow well and bloom, other will rarely bloom and some will never bloom. I have seen Myr humboltii and Myr exaltata growing on the stems of palm trees doing well and blooming. I have seen a massive plant of Myr humboltii under the thick canopy of an avocado tree, with no evidence of it ever blooming. You need to observe your plant, and when it is producing a new pseudobulb, give it the watering and fertilizing it needs. 

 5. Is it healthy? Some Myrmecophilas are attacked by a type of fungus that kills their stems and primordial buds. You can tell this because part of the stem that should be green look like cork. The sad thing about this is that often nothing can be done. The warning sign is often that the plant is not producing new growths. The fact that the rest of the plant can look good even if it has lost all its capacity to produce new growths, and can remain looking good for years, is a confounding thing. Plants like this will not bloom ever. On occasion an older side bud will produce healthy new growth. But if a plant has not produced new growths after a few years, it is probably a lost cause. 

 6. Is the plant getting the proper nutrition? Sometimes you can do all the above things and still a plant won’t bloom. Sometimes a few extra things can give it the push it needs to bloom. I have used a dilution of Epson salt to give the plants more access to magnesium, in particular those that are growing in full sun and look yellow. A fertilizer with a high nitrogen concentration is recommended when the plant is producing new growths.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Myrmecophila brysiana culture: The free spirit

Myrmecophila brysiana When I received my plant of Myrmecophila brysiana from an online vendor, it was a tiny thing on a 2 inch pot. I made a custom-made wire basket for it. The plant spent the next few years producing a line of increasingly large pseudobulbs that were tightly clustered. So far everything was unremarkable. Last year, I noticed that it was producing its largest pseudobulb yet, but it was growing sidewise, into the side of the basket (large red oval). I made a hole for the pseudobulb to grow through. A few months later I was startled to discover it was producing a new growth, downwards directly into the media (red circle). I had to remove most of the media in the basket, as well as one side, to allow the new growth to enlarge and expand to full size. Then a few weeks ago, It started a third new growth, this one points straight up (small red oval). Given that the plant seems determined to grow in all directions at the same time, I will eventually let it hang from a wire and grow in whichever direction it wants.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Myrmecophila grandiflora culture: The well behaved one, that stays, mostly in the basket

When I brought this plant, many years ago, I decided to put it in a basket. I have other Myrmecophilas growing on trees, I wanted to be able to bring the plant into the house when in bloom. I put the seedling in the middle of a custom-made basket, with big chunks of bark. The plant has been growing in the basket for many years. It has been producing closely set pseudobulbs in a pattern that has been slowly growing around what was the body of the basket. I have had to remove parts of the basket to allow its pseudobulbs to grow out. Even though I used the most durable kind of media I could find for this plant, it has been in the basket for so long that all the media decayed and was washed away. The plant is now growing on its old dried pseudobulbs and roots. You can see in the photo the old hollow pseudobulbs. The inflorescence of this plant is quite tall, so if I put the basket on the floor, the flowers can be enjoyed at eye level. This plant needs heavy fertilization and plenty of watering when producing new growths. Failure to give this plant the fertilizer and water it needs in this part of its growth cycle will result in stunted pseudobulbs that won’t bloom. This plant is hung close to the shade cloth so that it gets the brightest light. I only move this plant when the inflorescences are developing. I use long hanging hooks, so that the inflorescences don’t scrape against the shade cloth and become damaged. When the inflorescences are growing, I take care that they don’t get tangled with the other baskets that are also hanging from the top of the shade house. This is also a problem with other genera that produce long inflorescences such as Encyclia.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Encyclia culture: Some notes on root initiation

One of the most important events in the seasonal cycle of Encyclia is root initiation. It At this time of the year, in early February I am expecting my plants to start growing their inflorescences. Most of my plants finished the growth of the new bulbs at the end of last year. A few, are doing their own thing. Encyclia Borincana started producing a new growth for an old, small pseudobulb, a newly brought Encyclia alata is showing new growth. A few roots with green tips can be seen here and there. This pseudobulb of Encyclia Renate Schimdt (Enc. Orchid Jungle x Enc. Alata) decided to produce a massive growth of roots. Locally, it is the start of the dry season, not a time I find desirable for a plant to increase its water needs to nurture root growth. But you got to do what the plant needs. Because I grow my orchids outdoors this mass of delicious, tender green tipped roots is a very tempting target for insects and other critters. To stop the roots from becoming food, I give the plant a spot application of a systemic insecticide. Systemic insecticides tend to concentrate on new growths, making then inedible to any insect that might be tempted to nibble on them. Protecting the roots at this stage is vital for the future survival of the plant. The loss of the root system of its newest pseudobulb can severely set back an orchid and might even endanger its survival. Note the length of the green part of the root. A very short green tip is not a good thing, it means the plant is not getting enough water. the lenght of the green in this orchid shows it is getting the right amount of watering to promote good root growth. Root initiation in many types of orchids is not like other plants, it can only happen a specific time of the year. So when it happens the plant has to be given the care it needs to produce a strong system of roots capable of sustain the next year growth, there will not be a second chance. On some instances a plant whose lead growth is damaged will produce a secondary growth a bit back in the stem, but that doesn’t always happens. Observing the long-term growth pattern of my Encyclia I have noted that they tend to rise slowly raise they stems away from the media. After a few years the pseudobulbs are sitting on a mass of roots a few inches tall, rather than directly on the media.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Dendrobium anosmum var huttonii

I have cultivated this particular clone of Dendrobium anosmum var. huttonii for many years. It has several peculiar traits that make it distinct from other anosmum plants. But first let’s mention which trait defines var. huttonii as a distinct variety of Dendrobium anosmum. The defining trait of var. Huttonii is a pure white flower with purple color on the lip. If a plant has any color, no matter how pale, outside the lip, it is not Huttonii. There are many, many named varieties of anosmum, but only two have been scientifically described, var. dearei, the alba form and var. huttoni. The other variants, and there are probably dozens or even hundreds of them, get their names from commercial growers or from informal descriptions in popular literature. To mention just a few, anosmum from the Philippines sometimes are called superbum, also there is var. delacourii, var. velutina (both very hairy flowers with flowers that look squashed), “touch of class” and the “thai” type. Also, there are many hybrids of anosmum and parishii, cucullatum, primulinum and rhodopterygium that are sometimes sold as anosmum. Hybrids sometimes sold as anosmum are Nestor, Supernestor, and Little Sweetscent. There are several traits that are characteristic of this huttoni clone. For example, my plants start producing flower buds and showing basal growths in the middle of January. A six to seven weeks before the type form of the species does the same in my locality. The clone I have is less vigorous than the type form of the species. It takes dedicated care to coax this plant to produce canes more than two feet long, and none of my plants have produced canes larger than three feet. It is common for anosmum to produce plantlets near the tip of old canes that have lost their roots. Huttonii produces plantlets near the tip of canes, but it also produces them, at the middle of the cane. Huttonii plantlets separated from the mother plant will tend to remain small unless they get fertilized regularly during the growing season with a fertilizer that has a high nitrogen number. In December, I reduce considerably the water my plants get and they start shedding their leaves. By the end of January most of my plants are entirely leafless. My huttoni bloom from leafless canes. Normally, anosmum plants produce their flowers along the length of the cane. If the only few flowers are produced they tend to cluster at the tip of the stem. In huttonii, the flowers can appear near the tip of the cane but also at random spots near the middle. Sometimes small plants will bloom if they have several canes. I have seen plants with canes that are less than eight inches long produce a single flower at the tip of the cane. The huttonii clone has never been as floriferous as the type form which can produce dozens of flowers if well cared for. I am happy if any of the canes produce eight flowers simultaneously. Sometimes a cane will only produce two to four flowers. And here is the most bizarre thing about this clone, sometimes a cane that bloomed early in the year will bloom again, weeks or months after it first flowered. No other anosmum variety I have has shown this peculiar trait. The flowers are highly fragrant. When this plant shows the buds of the flowers and the new growth, I return to a normal watering and fertilizing schedule. I cultivate my plants in baskets because during the rainy season it can rain heavily, every day for months. This, and the heat and the insects tend to turn most organic potting media into slush in a bothersome short time if the media stays saturated all the time. Baskets allow for fast drainage and at bit of drying in between rain events. This also means that the media can get very dry during the dry season and will need several good soakings before it starts retaining water. These plants are heavy feeders and will not grow to a good size unless regularly fertilized. At the beginning of the growing season, I remove the plantlets from the older canes. Sometimes I cut a sizeable section of the cane around the plantlets to them a better head start. The critical part is the time period when the plantlet is sending into the media the roots of its first cane produced after separation. If anything happens to the roots, this will be a considerable set back to the growth and will endanger the survival of the plantlet. A plantlet that is well cared for can start blooming as soon as two years after being separated from the mother plant. There is more information on the culture of Dendrobium anosmum elsewhere in this blog.