Cattleya orchids are ones of the most beautiful plants – they have large and fragrant flowers. Some of them are floral emblems of countries – Cattleya trianae is a national flower of Colombia, Cattleya mossiae is a floral emblem of Venezuela. Cattleya orchids come in different colors, with most common – purple, lilac, white, red, yellow, orange, brown and there are rare blue varieties. Cattleya species (and its relatives – Brassavola, Laelia and Sophronitis, which are widely used in Cattleya intergeneric hybridization) all comes from Americas – mostly from Southern America.
Types of Cattleyas
They are epiphytes and lithophytes and grow in dry conditions. Some species even grow on cacti. They can be divided into unifoliate or one-leaved and bifoliate or two-leaved species. The species of the first group usually have few large, showy and fragrant flowers (Cattleya labiatae group – Cattleya dowiana, Cattleya gaskelliana, Cattleya labiata, Cattleya lawrenceana, Cattleya lueddemanniana, Cattleya maxima, Cattleya mossiae, Cattleya percivaliana, Cattleya rex, Cattleya schroederae, Cattleya trianae, Cattleya warneri and Cattleya warscewiczii). Bifoliate Cattleya species have smaller flowers (but at greater number – up to fifteen). All Cattleyas are sympodial orchids with pseudobulbs, one pseudobulb flowers only one time.
How to grow Cattleyas
Cattleyas require high light levels – 2000 to 3000 foot candles. Unifoliate Cattleyas require more sun than bifoliate Cattleyas species. A potting mixture should be well-drained without components with high water capacity – no sphagnum, cocoa chips, and peat moss. The Only medium of large bark, epi web and other material with low water capacity should be used. The substrate should dry out between watering. Unifoliate Cattleya have very clearly visible growth periods. The first period is active growth when new growth on rhizome is clearly visible. At this time you should carefully increase watering and start using fertilizers with high nitrogen content. When new pseudobulb is formed and start becoming juicy, you should switch to fertilizers with high phosphorus and potassium content to stimulate buds formation. When the sheath is visible, you should slightly reduce watering and stop using fertilizers, as it can trigger new (and weaker) growth instead of buds formation. Then Cattleya blooms, and it is a good idea to slightly increase watering. After flowering, when plant became dormant, you should reduce watering to a minimal level (pseudobulbs can shiver slightly, but it’s OK) and wait for the next growth period, then the cycle starts again. Some unifoliate species of Cattleya have two dormancy periods. The first period begins before flowering, after a sheet is formed, and another one is after flowering. You should know that any watering or applied fertilizer at a wrong time (at dormancy, or at blossoms formation) could not only disrupt the buds formation, but also could cause root rot and plant death.
What’s about bifoliate Cattleyas? They have similar growth requirements, but they are easier to grow. They have also the growth period, flowering time and the dormancy, but they are not so salient. It would not be a drama if you accidently water them at a wrong time. Small bifoliate Cattleyas, such as Cattleya aclandiae, are better to grow mounted to slab. It reduces the chance of rotting and mimics their natural growth habit.
Hybrids and itergenerics are more easy to grow. If you are orchid beginner and want to buy some Cattieya plant, you should firstly try some intergenerics such as Potinara or Brassolaeliocattleya hybrids. They have more showy, bright and fragrant flowers with different shades of white, purple, red, orange, yellow, green and brown. They are rather easy to grow and bloom. Some of them bloom up to four times per a year instead of unifoliate species Cattleya, which bloom once a year in definite periods (that’s why sometimes they are called as Christmas Orchid, Easter Orchid, May Day Orchid – it reflects this characteristic). Also, some of these hybrids have rather big flowers with not so big leaves and pseudobulbs, that is also their advantage. Retailers always have wide spectra of cattleya orchids for sale, and most of them are intergeneric hybrids.
You can also grow hybrid Cattleyas on semi-hydroponics. Yes, Cattleyas prefer drier conditions and don’t seem very suitable for semi-hydroponics. But if it is done well, Cattleya can grow different kinds of roots – with less velamen and adapted to high humidity. Given the fact that there is no organic matter in semi-hydro and there is nothing for fungi to grow on and cause rotting, that’s why there is a very small chance that orchid roots will rot. However, you should understand that the solution for semi-hydro should be changed in different growth periods. When Cattleya starts to grow you need to feed it with more nitrogen, and when it starts to form buds – phosphorus and potassium should be applied. When Cattleya blooms, it is better to use clean water without fertilizer to prolong the blooming period.
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