Recent Posts

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Stanhopea grandiflora

George Loddiges was in for a shock. When the medium sized orchid with fluted pseudobulbs that he and his father Conrad (1738-1826) nurtured finally flowered for the first time in 1827, even he, an experienced orchid grower and heir to the influential Loddiges Nursery, must have been taken aback.

Their description states, "This extraordinary plant was sent to us from Trinidad in 1824... It flowered in September last. We are indebted to Mr. Lindley for its generic name [Ceratochilus grandiflorus], which he suggested, in allusion to the two horns of the lip... The flowers, which are exceedingly large, are very fragrant; they last but a short time. It requires the stove, and has grown very well with us potted in moss, sawdust, and sand, with a good supply of water. It appears to increase by offsets." [Loddiges' Botanical Cabinet 15:t.1414.1828]

Our plant flowered in the Fuqua Orchid Center this September and it stopped me dead in my tracks. I reversed course and closed in for a better look. Exceedingly large, yes, even for a Stanhopea. Waxy, glossy and powerfully fragrant of wintergreen. According to Whitten and Williams the fragrance is composed mostly of benzyl-acetate (wintergreen), with smaller amounts of limonene (citrus) and cineole (camphor). It's a stunner.

Loddiges' description of his growing methods is fascinating. His "stove" was his famous hothouse, an innovative structure for its time. His potting materials, which must have been local in origin (no Chilean moss, perlite or tree fern fiber in those days), are just as interesting. They were a striking departure from the conventional soil-based growing media of his day. He must have learned that garden soil wouldn't work for an epiphytic orchid. Instead he chose moss (What kind, I wonder), sawdust (What grade? softwood? hardwood? Did his plants become nitrogen deficient?) and sand (Didn't it reduce aeration?). By all accounts his methods were a brilliant success. Loddiges must have been an attentive and creative grower.

If the current trend toward local sustainable materials continues I can imagine relatively small operations like ours, located in a suitable climate, could grow live sphagnum moss (outdoors in shallow plastic-lined beds) for their own use as an orchid potting medium.

Stanhopea grandiflora grows as an epiphyte between 100 and 1000  meters elevation around the Amazon basin along the eastern slopes of the Andes in Peru and Colombia; also in Venezuela, the Guianas and Brazil; and the island of Trinidad. It is pollinated by Euglossine bees.


Post a Comment

Post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...