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ASK PAUL AN ORCHID QUESTION (and Orchid Warning): We have known Paul for some time now and have accompanied him on some of his orchid expeditions to Costa Rican orchid shows. If you ever get the opportunity to do so it is a most fascinating experience. Paul can look at an Orchid and tell you it's origin from generations back. His knowledge and obvious love of orchids is catching. Our orchid garden was inspired by one of his visits. Now about Paul:

Paul Mitchell will finally be moving to the Costa Rican Central Valley around the end of this year. He has been visiting Costa Rica since November of 1976. His interest in orchids began in high school in 1962 when a classmate in Biology class gave a talk on orchids. His curiosity piqued, he went to a local nursery and bought three orchids, which grew and bloomed for him. He was hooked.

Over the years as other hobbies came and went his interest in orchids endured. At one point he had eight- or nine-hundred orchids in his collection in his backyard in west central Florida. Now he is looking forward to growing orchids in tropical Costa Rica where he will not have to put them inside during the wintertime. Paul's comment "Hooray!". Paul would like to warn budding orchidists that orchid growing is not a hobby. It's a disease, and one with no cure, at that. But what a way to go!

To ask Paul an orchid question today . . .
Click here for the Costa Rica Living Yahoo group. You can also post an orchid photo here: at the CostaRicaLiving photo page and Paul will take a good guess at identifying it and providing information on care and feeding. Remember to take a photo of the label if there is one! For an Orchid introduction try "The Real Costa Rica" at this link: The Real Costa Rica > Costa Rica Overview > The Flowers & Orchids of Costa Rica

Here follows our online orchidarium
These are orchids we have photographed at the Pura Vida, at local Costa Rican orchid shows (there are many) or at visits to other orchidariums such as the splendid Lankester gardens.

Cattleya skinneri aka GUARIA MORADA (Costa Rica)

This marvellous guaria is in the garden of Pura Vida and is over 20 years old. Each spring in February or March after enough of a drought (no water) it will one day literally burst into flower as you can see here.

Botanists recently have decided to change the name to Guarinanthe skinneri, both to commemorate its tico name and to place it in a genus of three or so former Cattleya species which are closely related to each other moreso than to Cattleya.

But no matter what it is called, it is still a very showy plant when a large specimen is in full bloom.

There is a nursery just outside of Palmares that is dedicated to this plant and next month, around the time of the National Orchid Exposition in San Jose, that nursery will be ablaze with Cattleya skinneri in full flower. They are established on thin trunked trees which are growing in rows about eight feet apart.

When you stand in the middle of this grove of trees you are enclosed in a sea of lavender-purple blooms of the fragrant guarias and you cannot see anything but the glorious hues of their flowers, no matter which direction you look. It is so intense that it is almost electrifying.

Worth a visit to Palmares to see. The entry fee is nominal and there are also several shadehouses full of orchids, some of which are available for sale.

The garden is called Jardin de Orquideas (2452-0105) email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it owned by Alfonso Rojas To find it just ask anyone in downtown Palmares for directions. It's on the southeast edge of town. Definitely worth a visit. And when these lovely plants are all in bloom it's breathtaking.

Dendrobium nobile (India):

This large specimem was shown at an Orchid show earlier this year in Alajuela.

Dendrobium nobile is a species from India and several nearby countries. It grows in climes where it experiences monsoon rains during its summers and chilling temperatures and bright sun during several months of dry wintertime. An occasional frost may occur.

D. nobile requires this rest period during the dry, bright months and chilling temperatures to ripen the canes which ensures flowering just before the spring rains begin. The will usually drop their leaves as the dry, cool part of the year begins.

When the leaves begins to fall, orchid hobbyists often make the mistake of feeling sorry for the plants and watering them during what is supposed to be their resting time. This confuses the plants and in springtime, instead of producing flowers at the nodes along the canes, little plantlets (which orchidists call 'keikis', a Hawaiian word meaning baby) begin to form instead. In addition to spoiling the flowering for that year the keikis can sap the strength of the plant and should be removed when still very small.

Sometimes D. nobile and its relatives in the genus will throw keikis as a way of trying to survive. This is often noted when they are planted in pots and the medium becomes stale. The plant will initiate a keiki up near the top of one of its canes looking for a fresh support to attach to.

Dendrobium nobile is the parent of many floriferous hybrids in shades of lavender, purple, violet, yellow, orange, and white, with an alternate color inside the tube of the lip. Flowers are frequently pleasantly and sweetly scented, sometimes smelling like lemon sugar cookies.

A well bloomed nobile dendrobium will be so covered with blossoms that they obscure the green parts of the plant, making it a living bouquet.

Don't cut the canes off when they finish flowering as the needs them to help support its health. Canes should be removed only after they turn yellow and become completely dry. Plants should be repotted after two to three years when the bark medium begins to break down and stay damp. Dendrobium nobile likes to be severely underpotted so that it can dry out quickly between waterings. Or in Costa Rica it may be mounted on various kinds of trees.

When grown properly, Dendrobium nobile and its showy hybrids are among the most rewarding of orchids.

Cycnoches aka SWAN ORCHID (Costa Rica):

Cycnoches (pronounced `SICK-noe-keys') are also known by their popular nickname, swan orchids, due to the shape of the lip and the graceful curve of the column. The flowers of C. warscewiczii also emit a wonderful fragrance, especially in the morning.

This showy species is native to Costa Rica, occurring from there down into Colombia. It favors hot to warm regions and can be found growing on trees or on rotten logs, and even at times growing terrestrially next to decomposing logs or tree stumps.

Cycnoches is a genus of orchids belonging to a group of several related genera that have some odd habits, amongst which they bear dimorphic flowers (i.e., they bear separate male or female flowers or, rarely, perfect ones containing both sexes), which are markedly different from one another.

This habit was responsible for much confusion early on as orchid taxonomists tried to ID these beautiful orchids, since the male and female flowers tended to arise on separate plants. Then on a subsequent flowering a plant might reverse itself and produce flowers of the sex opposite from what it produced on its previous blooming. Finally, when some individuals eventually produced flowers of both sexes on separate flower spikes on one plant it became clear what the confusion was.

Of course it did not help early on that the female flowers of Cycnoches all look very much the same. It is the male flowers that display the individuality of each species of the genus, offering a means for proper identification.

Cycnoches are easy to grow and bloom if attention is given to meeting their requirements. They will thrive in a bark mix suitable for epiphytic orchids but seem to do especially well in sphagnum moss with an addition of well-rotted cow manure or time-release fertilizer. They are heavy feeders that require copious amounts of water during their growing season.

Towards the end of the growing season the flowers are produced along about the time the leaves on the newly matured growth begin to yellow and drop. After the flowers fade the plant should be rested with all water withheld until new growth is seen emerging from the bottom of the plant.

When the new growths are about two inches long, the plant should be removed from the old mix, the roots trimmed (the roots die off at the end of each season), and the bulb staked securely in the new pot and mix. When the roots are about one inch long and entering the mix it is safe to resume watering a little. As the roots continue to grow watering should be increased as the plants will now begin taking it up in earnest, along with the nutrients in the fertilizer. The new bulbs (correctly, pseudobulbs) will grow quickly and, if the plant is kept happy and well supplied with food and water through its growing season you should have more flowers around September.

These flowers are about four to five inches in diameter and usually last about a week in perfection Flower spikes can carry three to seven flowers. Their fragrance is light, sweet, and very pleasant.

In this photo the bee visiting the flower is deceived into believing that there is nectar due to the flower's strong fragrance. Notice the configuration of the bee to this (male) flower. The bee is just the right size to effect pollination. (Orchid species have usually evolved with their pollinators -or vice versa- so that each orchid species usually has only one pollinator. Other insects visiting a species which is not the right size or

shape will seldom effect pollination.) As it searches for the (nonexistent) nectar this bee's abdomen will brush against the end of the column, picking up the pollinia to carry away to fertilize a female flower.

A Dendrobium - D. amethystoglossum:

Dendrobium is a huge genus of asian orchids, members of which grow in nearly every sort of habitat one can imagine and in most of the tropical and sub-tropical countries in that sector of the globe. The species of this genus are wildly varied and flowers also are amazingly diverse of shape and color.

D. amethystoglossum hails from the Philippines and can be found growing on rocks in warm climes upwards to intermediate to cool regions on those islands.

A really well grown plant can support half a dozen or more drooping spikes of these attractive, long-lasting, pleasantly fragrant flowers. The contrast between the crystaline white of the sepals and petals and the reddish-violet of the lip makes for a wonderful interplay of color.

The plants bloom in the wintertime after two to three months rest and drying off, plus withholding of fertilizer until the blooms have passed. As the new growths emerge in spring watering and feeding are gradually resumed until the growths begin to lengthen and roots fully emerge, after which copious amounts of water are required. Heavy watering and feeding continue until the fall when the growths mature when water and food must again be withheld to ripen the canes for the blooming season that is to follow. Only enough water to keep the canes from shrivelling severely should be given during the winter rest, and then only sparingly.

This is a rewarding plant that should succeed well in Costa Rica in climates like those found in Escazu or Cartago. The spike on the plant shown here indicates that this is a very happy specimen carrying more than the expected number of flowers on it.

A Nice Trichopilia:

If you attend the Annual Orchid Exposition of Costa Rica I'll bet you will see at least a few specimens of this lovely, lightly fragrant species.

T. suavis is a relative of the Oncidium (dancing lady, shower of gold) orchids. The flowers are proportionately large for the plant and on a well bloomed one can surround the base of the plant. Some of the geally good ones are really show- stoppers.

Plants prefer intermediate temperatures to thrive best, but I have seen them grown and bloomed in the warm temperatures of central Florida. They like a well drained mix that holds moisture around the roots but still allows good aeration. During its rest period it likes to stay a bit less wet tho not dried out for a long period of time.

It is important to repot these plants a soon at the mix gets old as they resent stale conditions around the roots. The best time to repot is as the new roots begin to emerge along with the new shoots which arise from the base of the plant.

There are several other species of Trichopilia that occur in Costa Rica, several of which can be just as showy as this one. T. marginata and T. tortilia come to mind and you may see yet other species if you attend the Exposition.

From the ACO Show held locally at the Cariari in March:

This is just one of many photos from the ACO show also the site of the national Orchid meeting.  You will likely find an orchid show almost any month somewhere in Costa Rica.




Cattleya dowiana - A Native of the Atlantic Vertiente in Costa Rica:

This beautiful orchid is native to the Atlantic vertiente of Costa Rica. On the generally northeast facing slopes of the mountains it grows high up in the tops of trees where it receives abundant light, wind, and rain.  The combination of these conditions which this plant needs to thrive often makes it somewhat difficult in cultivation.

Also known in Costa Rica as the Guaria de Turrialba, this orchid is the parent of many of our modern yellow cattleya hybrids. It imparts its yellow color to its progeny as well as the beautiful gold venation in the lip.  While the flowers often last no more than a week in good condition, their beauty is commanding and that makes this a desirable plant to have in one's collection. Fortunately as a parent, its progeny often have flowers with better keeping quality.

I would suggest resisting its charms if you are only just starting to grow orchids, and confine your collecting of this species to photo studies like this on the photographer has provided us with. Or grow one of its many spectacular hybrids, instead.

In 1898 a botanist by the name of Frederick Boyle from England wrote an interesting book on Orchids in which we find the following description:

"In avowing a certain indifference to Cattleyas, I referred to the bulk, of course. The most gorgeous, the stateliest, the most imperial of all flowers on this earth, is C. Dowiana unless it be C. aurea, a "geographical variety" of the same.

They dwell a thousand miles apart at least, the one in Colombia, the other in Costa Rica; and neither occurs, so far as is known, in the great intervening region. Not even a connecting link has been discovered; but the Atlantic coast of Central America is hardly explored, much less examined.

In my time it was held, from Cape Camarin to Chagres, by independent tribes of savages not independent in fact alone, but in name also. The Mosquito Indians are recognized by Europe as free; the Guatusos kept a space of many hundred miles from which no white man had returned; when I was in those parts, the Talamancas, though not so unfriendly, were only known by the report of adventurous pedlars. I made an attempt comparatively spirited to organize an exploring party for the benefit of the Guatusos, but no single volunteer answered our advertisements in San Jose de Costa Rica; I have lived to congratulate myself on that disappointment.

Since my day a road has been cut through their wilds to Limon, certain luckless Britons having found the money for a railway; [Pg 115]but an engineer who visited the coast but two years ago informs me that no one ever wandered into "the bush."  This excerpt comes from - Project Gutenberg -tm.

Phalaenopsis - or Phals

Phalaenopsis, the moth orchids, come from tropical Asia. They have succulent leaves but otherwise no real water storage organs as do many other orchids with pseudobulbs which help to tide them over the dry season they experience in their own habitats.

Phapaenopsis -or Phals (Fails)- as we orchid fanatics tend to call them, come in many colors from pure white with yellow on the lips, to pinks and yellows, many with spots or stripes.

Not difficult to cultivate they don't like to dry out at the roots, but at the same time don't like to be waterlogged either. Evenly moist is the term we use for what Phals prefer. They also do not like to be colder than the lower 50s (F.) but an ccasional dip into the mid-30s can help to initiate fower spikes in the spring. They can get pests and fungal and bactieral rots but the most frequent way this latter happens is if the plants are watered too late in the day and water is left standing in the leaf axils.

Plant them in loosely packed sphagnum moss so there is moisture yet good areation at the roots and they will be happy. They also benefit from good levels of humidity and about 60% shade. Their tender leaves will burn if given too much light. They prefer filtered light rather than it being reflected or indirect. Repotting should be done about every two years or when the sphagnum moss begins to break down.

The flowers can last for two to three months on the plant in perfection under ideal conditions.  Taisuco, the Taiwanese sugar manufacturer is big into production of Phalaenopis here in Costa Rica and they always have a large showy exhibit in the National Orchid Exposition in March.

Dendrobium aphyllym

This a member of the genus Dendrobium. I can't tell which one this one is for sure but it appears to be Dendrobium aphyllum (syn. D. periardii) . There is a similar species in this section, D. parishii which is also popular and showy, plus a cross of D. aphyllum known as D. Adastra. All three of these Dendrobiums are frequently seen in collections and are not hard to find.

When these plants are in growth mode with active roots and elongating new growths they need frequent watering and a weak fertilizating routine. Any balanced water soluble fertilizer what is slightly acid should serve.  Once the new growths mature, reduce watering to lightly once a week and discontinue fertilizing. Eventually the leaves will begin to yellow and fall. This is natural and should be allowed to happen; there is nothing wrong with the plant.

When the leaves have fallen the plant should be placed in a brighter situation and watered very sparingly - only enough to keep the canes from shriveling excessively, and only when needed. These plants need a period of inactivity to allow their canes to mature and ripen in readiness for the blooms to follow. If you continue to water or - heaven forbid, fertilize - the plant during its normal rest period it will become confused and when it is time for the buds to appear what you will get instead is little plantlets at the nodes along the canes. This is a great way to increase your number of plants, but you won't have any flowers that season.

It pays to be strict with these orchids during their rest period, as that is what they expect in their natural habitat, and you will be rewarded with a show of flowers like seen in the photo.

These are good beginner's orchids and are quite easy of culture, faithfully producing a cascading show of pastel pink and white blossoms each spring if you remember to treat them with a dry rest period each winter.

A position where good air movement and filtered light are available suits them well. If potted they do best in smallish clay pots as they need to dry out fairly quickly after watering. Otherwise they will succeed well when mounted on a trefern (root) slab or on a piece of natural wood. By all means avoid using driftwood from the beach as most orchids are damaged by even a small amount of salt residue in the wood.

Unknown Orchid Photo

"Thanks to the sloppy practices of your photographer, we are not so sure what planet this one comes from."

Or some similar admonishment from Paul who gets really frustrated by your photographer when he forgets to take a pic of the darn tag making Paul guess (which he was remarkably good at until this one). :-).

Well who cares?  It is a beauty nonetheless!

The Tale of an Art-Shade

Here's another lovely orchid, albeit one that I cannot identify. It is possible to ID orchid species, but once you start putting the species together into hybrids it is impossible to positively ID the resultant progeny if the label on the plant is lost or, as in this case, the name of the plant was not included to ID the photo.  That does not make the orchid any less lovely, but it does offer some drawbacks. One is that a 'lost label' as we who are orchid hobbyists call them, is no longer useful for hybridizing with, since the parentage cannot be acertained.

All orchids have been registered since the first hybrid was produced around one hundred years ago. Orchids are the only group of plants for which hybridizing records are complete back to the beginning of crossing them.

This is not so for any other popular group of ornamental plants being manipulated horticulturally. Not for roses, nor daylillies, nor even gladiolus. Bromeliads are probably the only other group that ranks close in recordkeeping which goes back to the start.

But we do have a complete record for the orchids. And because of this, not only hybridizing with a 'lost label' plant is discouraged, but also showing them to compete in judged orchid shows for point scoring is not possible as there is no way to know for sure what class to enter the plant into.

So here we have a beautiful yellow orchid that is what orchidists refer to as an art-shade cattleya hybrid. These are very popular and come in many shapes and color ranges: whites, yellows, oranges, pinks, corals, thru brilliant reds and bronzy lavenders and evn the usual orchid-lavender.

What else distinguishes the 'art-shades' from traditional cattleya hybrids is their size and shape. They usually bear flowers 4" and under and often appear in clusters of five to seven or more flowers on an inflorescence. They can be quite showy and may bloom more than once per year. Traditional standard cattleya hybrids are the big round showy lavender or white corsage orchids that one often visualizes when someone mentions an orchid. But there are lot more than those.

The 'art-shade' cattleyas are like the jelly-beans in an Easter basket, providing some counterpoint to the big dyed easter eggs and chocolate bunnies. (And orchid growing can be just as addictive as those choco-bunnies in that basket.)

But if you have plans to become a serious orchid hobbyist, please be sure to buy correctly labeled plants from the vendors at the local orchd shows. Then make sure that you don't lose the tags or that the birds don't swipe your tags. I wire mine onto the plants and use yellow plastic labels which the birds don't seem to like. I also use a No. 2 graphite pencil to write on the labels which doesn't wash off easily.  But most of all enjoy your orchids. There are many many kinds to choose from, and Costa Rica is a natural green- house where they will thrive with minimal care.

Now, what is the name of the orchid illustrated here? I don't know for sure but I wish I did. Then I'd know what to ask for when I went looking for it -which I would do if I knew its name.

But enough lecturing. Have fun with a few orchids. There is one that will be easy to grow where you live. Have the vendor help you choose something easy for the beginner and before long you will be hooked on them like I am.

Dendrobium thyrsiflorum aff.

Paul writes "It is an Asian species that is popular, showy, and rather easy of culture. A well grown specimen of this species sporting multiple spikes of flowers is a stunning sight to behold. Although the flowers last in perfection for only about a week, their sheer numbers and ease of cultivation make this species worthwhile.  Grow these on the warm side but not too hot, with a slight drop in temperature at night. Plants prefer about fifty percent shade and good air movement. Many places in Costa Rica are well suited to this showy species.

In the wintertime (Dec. thru Mar.) keep them cooler at night (around 50 degrees F.) but do not let them dry out completely or the pseudobulbs will start to shrivel and that will affect flowering. At this time they should receive no fertilizer as they are resting and preparing for their bloom cycle.

Once the flower spikes are present and starting to elongate you can increase the watering but hold off on the fertilizer until flowering is over and the new growths at the base of the plant are starting. When the roots are about on half to and inch long you can resume fertilizing the plants.

These orchids do not like to be overpotted as, while they like a lot of water during their growing season, they really need good aeration at the roots so a smallish clay pot with a porous medium is ideal for them.

If grown well these plants will increase in size each year and the number of flower spikes will also increase. There have been specimen plants of this species that have bloomed out covered with literally dozens of pendent spikes making them breathtaking to behold. This species seems to be reasonably popular in Costa Rica so you should be able to find it at one of the various orchid shows that are presented throughout the year in Costa Rica.

When is a black orchid not a black orchid

This is Coelogyne pandurata, an Asian species which has the dubious distinction of being called 'the black orchid'. Obviously it is not black as it is easy to see that most parts of the blossoms are yellowish green!

What gives it that name are the markings on the lip which are of such a dark shade of purple as to appear black. There is no really, truly, black orchid in nature, so this is perhaps about as close to a black color in orchids that nature manages to supply.

Actually the scientific name, Coelogyne pandurata has a completely different meaning. 'Coelogyne' comes from two Greek words for hollow + woman, based upon the shape of the column, which is a structure formed by the fusion of the sexual parts of the flower i.e., the stamens and pistils. In all other flowers these structures are separate, but in orchids they are fused into a single structure, the column (or gynostemium).

The other name, the species epithet, 'pandurata' is descriptive of the lip (labellum) and means pandurate, or fiddle-shaped. So THAT has nothing to do with the color of the lip, you can tell. The monniker 'black orchid' is merely a common, fanciful name and perhaps not a very appropriate one at that.  Coelogyne pandurata can found from Malaya to Borneo and grows in trees along the edges of rivers. It grows into a large specimen and should be grown in wire baskets with well-drained medium. It tends to spread out as it grows.

The flowers, fragrant of honey, are short-lived but can easily be 3-inches in size and are carried on arching racemes of 12 to 15 flowers, making quite a show when in full bloom.

It is a warm grower and is best repotted when necessary as the new growths are just starting. it enjoys a fairly bright situation, but care should be given mid-day to provide a bit of shade so the leaves do not become scorched.

About Our Miniature Orchids

This is a shot of one of the many miniature orchids that populate the forests of Costa Rica. They tend to grow up where they receive intermediate to cool temperatures, dwelling in rain- and cloud-forest habitats where they thrive in the high humidity that they must have. I would speculate that this plant is no more than about 3 inches tall.

With this in mind it is better to attack them with a camera instead of with a collecting hook to add to your collection, as attempting to grow them without careful duplication of their environment is usually unsuccessful leaving you with a dead plant in very short order.

That having been said, there are some Tico orchid fanciers who manage to succeed with these charming miniature orchids. Likely as not they live near to the area where the plants are found and the same elements of their habitat occurs where the Tico hobbyist lives.

The plant pictured today is one of a large family of orchids, the Pleurothallidinae, which contains the genera (= plural of the word genus) Pleurothallis, Lepanthes, and a few others that occasionally make their way into specialty orchid collections.

Most Pleurotallids are small but others are downright miniscule, and one species that I saw a photo of was a well-established specimen plant only 1/8 of an inch tall, in full bloom with at least a dozen flowerspikes and was growing uncrowdedly in an upturned ladies' sewing thimble that was no more than 1/2 inch across!

Now why, you may inquire, would anyone pay attention to plants that are so small? Well they sport a surprising number of intricate flowers for being so tiny, displaying complex, fantastical shapes, colors and textures. But they are not able to be appreciated properly without a good magnifying lens.

If you attend the National Orchid Exposition to be given this coming March in San Jose, you are almost certain to see someone with a hand-lens examining one of these tiny gems. If you have the foresight to take a magnifying glass with you you will be able to see eactly what I mean. But a jeweller's loup might even be better to appreciate such minute detail.

Then after you examine one of these tiny blossoms may come the next question to your mind: What kind of insect would be able to pollinate such a miniscule flower?

The plant pictured today appears to be a Pleurothallis, but might be a Lepanthes. And often the leaves of these little plants are as interesting as the flowers, having spots or being crenulated (ruffled) around their edges like a Lilliputian piecrust.

A hybrid Miltoniopsis

Our orchid portrait is a hybrid Miltoniopsis. They have been bred and improved now so that we have them in various colors, including reds, pinks, whites, and gradually we are finally seeing some very nice yellows. They are often called `Pansy Orchids' due to the general shape of their flowers.

One feature on the flowers of many Miltoniopsis is the `waterfall' pattern seen here on the lips of the flowers. Some of the color combinations are amazingly striking, and all the more so on a large plant with dozens of flowers, especially when you take into consideration that the flowers often measure around 3 inches vertically, they can make for a truly dazzling display. Sometimes there is a `mask' on the lip that provides even further contrast with the `waterfall'.

The species in this genus are mostly native to the Andean regions of South America where they often grow in misty, cold places. This puts a distinct burden on the orchid hobbyist who has his or her work cut out to try to approximate the conditions these plants need to thrive in. Orchid growers in Florida or Arizona are at a distinct disadvantage when attempting these plants.

In those hot states a greenhouse with evaporative cooling-pads is a must to accommodate Miltoniopsis and keep them happy. They will not tolerate hot, dry temperatures for any longer than a few days before starting to show symptoms of stress.

Fortunately for the orchid aficionado in Costa Rica these plants can be grown satisfactorily at cooler elevations. In fact there is one species of this genus that is native to Costa Rica and while it likes to be somewhat cool, it does not need to be kept quite so cool as do the Andean species. This Costa Rican species is Miltoniopsis warscewiczii (syn. Miltonia enderesii). There is a photo and further description of this handsome species at:

Even if you never plan to grow one of these cool Andean beauties, if you ever happen to see a large specimen of one in a show and you have `gardening tendencies', you may well be tempted to try one.

Vanda Woman

The genus Vanda is widespread in the Asian tropics. It contains many very showy species. Most of them are true tropical plants and cannot tolerate temperatures below 55F, and prefer not to fall below 70F, ideally. They tend to like it hot and humid, but do need some protection from the direct sun at midday.

Also, since they have little in the way of water storage organs as many other tropical orchids do have, they need watering daily, and if it is very breezy so that they dry off quickly, a second watering might be in order in the early afternoon.

In spite of their high water requirements they should be allowed to dry off before sundown, and it is especially important that water not be allowed to stand in the leaf axils at the top of the plants, which is a sure invitation to rots which can kill the plant.

Along with the bright light, copious watering, and good air movement, they also like to be fed. Any good water-soluble fertilizer is suitable. There are special orchid fertilizers available from the various plant nurseries and also at the local orchids shows.

It is advisable to mix the fertilizer at half the strength that is recommended on the package label and water 'weakly, weekly'. About every fourth or fifth watering with fertilizer, all Vandas should be irrigated with plain water to rinse away any accumulated salts from the fertilizer. And additionally, do not use water that has been treated thru a water softener as the sodium in it will soon damage almost all orchids and can quickly kills them.

Vandas, when well grown, can bloom two to three times per year, sometimes more frequently, depending on the hybrid in question. They are available in a whole palette of colors, even greens and browns, but no black ones. (There are no truly black orchids to be found - except those maybe in Rex Stout mysteries.)

Vandas can easily be showy, colorful, and rewarding plants, when given the attention that they need, and hybrids like the one shown are often available at the many orchid shows and from nurseries thoughout Costa Rica.

The family Masdevallias

Masdevallias are generally smallish plants standing from 3" to 5" tall measured from tip of their leaves to the base of their rhizomes. Even so, there are many that are much shorter in stature in fact some as short as one inch tall. And a few others are taller standing at eight inches or more.

The flowers are distinctive, three-cornered hat sort of shaped affairs. The petals and lip of this genus are much reduced in size and the outer whorl, their sepals are joined along their length having a cup- or tube-shaped configuration. The apical end of the sepals are often attenuated into long caudae, or tails. These may be a different color than the sepals and may be quite long and even curled or twisted into corkscrews.

Many of these orchids come from wet areas and are often from high altitudes in very cold wet places such as the Andes in South America. This can make them intractable in cultivation.

Yet there are many from lower altitudes which can be successfully grown in cultivation using cool pads and fans. There are even a number of species from lower elevations which are easy to grown by the novice under warm conditions.

Masdevallias tend to form clumps and when grown well can cover themselves with flowers during their blooming season.

With many species and hybrids in the trade which have been propagated in the laboratory, there are many now to choose from. So, for the orchid hobbyist with limited space, many plants of this interesting genus can be fit easily into a small area.  There are several orchid nurseries in the US which specialize in Masdevallias and some of their relatives. Pleurothallis, Draculas, Dryadella, and Trichosalpinx, to name a few, are gaining popularity.

To see a few examples of the floral diversity in this interesting genus, Masdevallia, here is a link: If you attend the National Orchid Exposition in San Jose each March or go to some of the other regional shows that are given throughout the year you will see examples of this genus in the exhibits there.

The Wasp Orchid

. . . is commonly called Epidendrum vespum. Seemingly named after a wasp, but I don't know why that should be.  This species is part of a complex of similar species that are widespread throughout Central America. It has gone through a series of name changes as taxonomists 'have had their way with' renaming orchids as information comes to light about their relationships.

Recently one taxonomist pulled a bunch of these out of Epidendrum and placed them in a new genus, Prosthechea and then changed its specific epithet to crassilabia. Then another taxonomist dragged the whole shebang over to yet another genus, Anacheilum. It's enough to make one dizzy, whoo-ee!

But the orchid just goes on being itself. It's a pretty thing, no matter what one calls it, and I'm sure it doesn't care one way or the other being called Anacheilum crassilabium or whatever is in vogue.  One of these grown into a specimen makes for a very nice show.


To learn more about an orchid you know, please stick a photo in an email with as much information as you know such as "where is it now?" and send to Berni at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or pose a question directly for Paul at click here for the Costa Rica Living Yahoo group. Please try and photograph the label on the orchid in question for better identification and so as not to annoy Paul (who is still very good at guessing if you don't).