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Stanhopea florida bloom close up

Newly bloomed Stanhopea florida

Some folks tell me that a Stanhopea bud pops like a little firecracker on the Fourth of July when it opens. I missed the pop, but on Friday morning I discovered that my long awaited Stanhopea florida had at last opened! 

It’s two blooms were a creamy, pale yellow accented with white and red spots. The larger flower was 5 1/2 inches across; the second was a 1/4 inch smaller. The blooms lasted three and a half days.

While its longevity is brief, the fact that it bloomed at all has renewed my hope and confidence that I might be able to encourage blooms from other plants in my collection in that wonderful, pendulous genus.

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This week’s blog posting is delayed while I wait for the final unfurling of the long-awaited Stanhopea florida blossoms. Photo shows progress –excruciatingly slow progress — of its unfurling. [Note ants — those ubiquitous ants!]

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One of the great advantages of attending orchid conferences is learning new and promising growing techniques from experts like Chuck Hanson of Ecuagenera. He raises his Gongora plants in 3/8 inch pumice stone. Among other things, his technique insures that the media is appropriate to the species’ need for a dry season. 

Hanson keeps his Gongora plants dry during the winter and starts watering (lightly) in March,  increasing the amount as the spring/summer progresses.  

I don’t know if this method would work with other members of the Stanhopea subtribe, but it might be worth experimenting. I’ll start by repotting my Gongora tricolor, which is presently languishing in a sphagnum moss and bark mix.

Right now I raise my Cycnoches in aquarium gravel, but think that I’ll switch a couple of them over to the pumice. The gravel has worked fine so far but maybe the pumice could achieve even better results. There’s always something new to learn and try!

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As spring approaches, I’m getting ready for the repotting sessions that come with that time of year: stocking up on bark and moss and other potting supplies, and identifying the plants that need repotting.

I’m also sterilizing used pots.

I do this two or three times during the winter and off and on during the rest of the year. The used pots are placed in a large plastic bucket, filled with water and about one cup of chlorine bleach. They will soak for 24 to 48 hours. After the bleach soaking, I’ll dump out the water and refill the bucket with plain water. The following day, I’ll dump rinse water and add fresh rinse water – repeating this a third day. Both my clay and plastic pots are sterilized this way.

I also “sterilize” my used mounts and wooden baskets – but not in bleach. I boil these in plain water on top of the kitchen stove in an old pot that I keep just for this purpose.

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Nine new blooms appear on the “Photos” page…eight from the greenhouse and one from a friend, Mark Prout.

The greenhouse Pleurothallis ornata (formerly shiedei) is one of the oldest Pleurothallid Alliance plants still in my collection. Often in spring the plant is covered with the thin-as-hair inflorescences and the tiny, spotted flowers. 

A long branching inflorescence of Phal. stuartiana blooms is shown. These are the first blooms on the young plant.

Paphina Majestic is a workhorse. It has rarely been out of bloom since I bought it about two years ago. Last summer it had as many as eight pendent inflorescences. The trick, I think, is maintaining a moist medium.

My Ludisia discolor sits on a pedestal in the coolest part of the greenhouse — next to the door. In the photo’s background, note the louvered window that is covered on the outside with a sheet of ice. The green towel, seen in the lower left corner of the photo, protects the plant from blasts of frigid air when the door opens.

The Mexipedium xerophyticum oaxaca CBR/AOS bloom is a wonderful, diminutive slipper orchid. In a few months, I’ll repot this plant and will post a video with more information about its culture.

This Cyc. JEM Black Dragon is a troubled plant. Its first inflorescence rotted, and most of its leaves turned yellow and dropped off. I thought the entire plant was a goner. But a few weeks ago, I noticed the nub of another inflorescence. Although the leaf loss subsided, the nub only produced one blossom…shown in the photo.

Catasetum ochraceum is my Star Trek orchid. It’s weird and other-worldly. The thick walls of the cup-shaped blooms never open more than the photo reveals. If you back light the bloom and peer inside the greenish cup, you’ll see a lovely brown and yellow striped interior.

Cattleya Forbador is a reliable bloomer with interesting coloring: yellow petals/sepals, often splattered in purple, with a striped and tubular purple lip.

Mark Prout sent a photo of one his December blooms, the gorgeous Lyc. Eightysixth Kiss, also included on the “Photos” page.

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This last weekend I violated one of the best tips I’ve ever received from a seasoned and successful orchid grower: inspect each of your plants at least once a week.

An invasion of tiny white scale sent this little Masdevallia erinche across the River Styx last year. I discovered the problem weeks after its demise when I studied this photograph. Note the white dots on the leaves of the plant sitting to the right of the masdevallia. Hard lesson!

Most weekends – which is the only time I can spend long hours in the greenhouse – I follow that tip. I examine the entire plant, thoroughly inspecting each leaf/pseudobulb (top and bottom), flower stem, flower and exposed roots.

It’s a great, plant-saving habit. And most weekends I follow that advice — but not this weekend. Other commitments called.

In all likelihood, when I return to the greenhouse next weekend, I’ll find some orchid vermin. Here’s what I’ll do to battle the problem.

If the culprit is solo, or at the most a trio, I’ll simply remove it (them) by hand.  If, however, the problem is more widespread, I’ll spray the infected area or the entire plant with one of my homebrew insecticides:

 Insecticide for scale:

  • 1 part isopropyl alcohol
  • 1 part water (my sprayer accommodates about 12 ounces each of alcohol and H2O)
  • Capful of Neem oil, which amounts to about 1 – 2 teaspoons
  • Two or three drops of liquid dishwater soap

To keep the oil mixed with the other ingredients, shake the bottle before every spraying. [If a colony of scales invades the orchid, especially a hard-to-reach part of the plant, I attack the affected spot with a cue-tip soaked in straight Neem oil.]

 Insecticide for other vermin, like mealy bugs, red spider, aphids, flies, and ants:

  • 1 part isopropyl alcohol
  • 1 part 409 household cleaner
  • 6 parts water
  • Two or three drops of liquid dishwater soap

Spray where needed. Note: This mix can damage tender growth.

 Also spray as needed – don’t use these two insecticides or any treatments preventively. That’s a waste of time and money.

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