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I’m definitely a "species nut," although I have a few hybrids as well. About two-thirds of my collection is either mounted or in baskets.
Most of the time I use live oak branches for my mounts, although I will occasionally use cork slabs (cork is another type of oak). A good number of North, Central, and South American epiphytic orchids grow on oak trees, because the wood does not contain toxic chemicals and the bark has deep grooves to hold moisture. I find branches that have been trimmed out of trees alive, so that they won’t rot anytime soon. I then select sections about a foot long or so for aesthetic value, and saw them free from the larger pieces I’ve collected. Then, I drill a hole (7/32nds drill bit) into the end that will be the top, and thread a section of heavy piano wire through. (I use the wire that contractors use to hang drop-ceilings with.) I make a short, sharp bend in one end of the wire, and pound that into the mount to secure it. The other end I bend into a hanger that will hook over the wood lattice on the top of my shadehouse. I make long hangers that are two feet long or so.
I wrap a small amount of New Zealand sphagnum around the roots and rhizome before I attach the orchid to the mount, and use fishing line to secure the plant. I find that it makes it much easier to knot a small loop in one end of the fishing line first, to help as I wrap around and around the mount. It also gives a secure spot to knot the other end when you’re done.
My established mounts are a botanist’s dream! They have all sorts of interesting molds and fungi growing on them, as well as live moss, mini tillandsias, and tiny ferns. None of this stuff bothers the orchids, and in my opinion, actually indicates that the growing substrate is healthy. Sort of like a "canary in a coal mine!"
For my catts and dendrobiums that aren’t mounted, I place them in clay orchid pots (the kind with the oversized drainage holes). I use large, smooth, river pebbles in the bottom for drainage, and light expanded clay aggregate for potting material. (I understand that one of the commercial names for the specific LECA I prefer is "Arcillite.") I really like LECA for several reasons: it’s inert and doesn’t break down, it drains well yet retains an even amount of moisture, its jagged edges lock together and don’t shift when moving a pot (unlike Aliflor which is perfectly round), and it’s cheap. If you have trouble locating a source for LECA, try some local cement contractors. It’s used in concrete mixes instead of gravel when a lighter product is desired. Another possible place to find some is from a mason contractor, since they use LECA to insulate the space between walls and chimneys. I imagine you could pick up a five-gallon bucket’s worth for a few dollars -- enough to last a lifetime! Be sure to wash and rinse well.
Here’s a photo of Arcillite:
(After many Forum members have asked me how or where to find Arcillite, I found another LECA product that might have similar properties. It’s called Turface, and is used mostly in athletic fields. My understanding is that it’s inexpensive, but I haven’t verified this. A possible source would be landscaping contractors.
I like using LECA because I can pot and leave things alone. I don’t have to worry about the mix breaking down, and my plants don’t get set back from being repotted every couple of years. I have a couple of massive catts growing over the sides of 10-inch pots. My Bc. Maikai ’Louise’ has sixty or seventy growths!
Even though I use LECA I’ve never tried S/H, because it doesn’t appeal to me and probably wouldn’t work well with my collection since I grow outside. I know many Forum members use this cultural method quite successfully. However, my humidity is much higher than what most have, and this would slow down the evaporation rate enough that I think I would have root rot problems.
Another thing I personally don’t like about S/H is that it might have a tendency to treat all the plants in one’s collection the same. Some of my plants I don’t water for months at a time, and others require it more often. I have too many plants to consistently give them individual attention, and in the interest of time have to use automatic watering. I can adjust the different moisture requirements and drying rates partly with the type of mix I use, so that an equal amount of watering doesn’t result in an equal amount of moisture at the plant’s roots.
My oncidiums, paphs, cymbidiums, brassia, and intergenerics are in plastic azalea-type pots, with medium grade coconut husk chips as a medium. I find that coconut husk chips provide an excellent level of even moisture at the roots, yet still have good aeration and drainage. I haven’t confirmed this myself, but many hobbyists recommend several soaks and rinses before using to eliminate salts. This medium lasts a long time!
Although I don’t grow that many, I have excellent results using New Zealand sphagnum for my phalaenopsis. I place a layer of styrofoam peanuts in the bottom of the pot for aeration and drainage, and then fill the rest with 100% sphagnum. Use the "S"-type styrofoam peanuts. In a six-inch pot there should be about 25 in the bottom, and in a five-inch pot about 15. There is a tendency to keep sphagnum too wet, but the addition of a good layer of peanuts will avoid this problem. Sphagnum requires repotting about every two seasons.
I won’t get on my soapbox, but I’ll offer a few words about my dislike for bark. (I volunteer a few hours per week at a large nursery, and have repotted hundreds of cattleyas, dendrobiums, and phalaenopsis.) The kind of pine/fir orchid bark you buy in stores is usually pretty clean, but very few epiphytic orchids grow on conifer trees because of the sap and volatile chemicals present. When fresh, orchid bark doesn’t soak up water very easily, but because of its shape, can "pool" water on its surface causing roots to rot. Depending upon the orientation of individual pieces in the pot, it could easily retain little or no water, and allow your plant to stay too dry. It ages and breaks down quickly, and the opposite becomes true. It soaks up TOO much water, and keeps plants too wet. Extremely inconsistent characteristics. I’ve seen many cattleyas potted in bark rot in the center of the pot. Also is the issue of bacteria growth because of the decomposition. If you don’t fertilize regularly, the bacteria will change the nitrogen balance in the mix. For example, a 20-20-20 application of fertilizer could become 10-20-20 over the course of time. (I don’t have any data on this, but I would guess in perhaps one or two weeks depending upon temperature.) This inbalance could adversely affect green growth.
I grow outdoors, with most of my plants in a shadehouse I built out of 2X4’s, wood lattice, and 6-mil plastic. The dimensions are approximately 7H X 8W X 14L. For the most part the conditions inside are on the bright side, although there are some shadier spots that are good for those plants that can’t tolerate too much light. As the sun climbs higher in the sky, I find it necessary to cover part of it with 50% shadecloth between May and September.
In addition to an overhead mister that runs as needed in the morning for five minutes, I also hand-water in the evening when things get dry, especially during spring and summer. The misting system uses municipal water, but when I hand-water I use condensate I’ve collected from our central-air unit.
Following are approximations of temperatures and humidity:
Feb thru Apr: Daytime 75-85F/30-50%, Nighttime 55-65F/60-85%
May thru Sept: Daytime 88-98F/65-80%, Nighttime 70-82F/95-98%
Oct thru Nov: Daytime 80-90F/65-80%, Nighttime 62-68F/90-95%
Dec thru Jan: Daytime 60-75F/65-85%, Nighttime 40-55F/80-95%
As you can see, since I grow outside, all of my plants are subjected to a hot, wet growing season and a cool, dry "rest" period in the winter. I’ve noted that this cycle is most appreciated by cattleyas, dendrobiums, and encyclias. Many hobbyists grow their plants under more even year-round conditions with good results, but I find that when they are cultivated under conditions that more closely match what they would receive naturally, they thrive.
During especially cool winter nights, I use supplemental heating with a 1500-watt ceramic heater which I direct into a wet towel hanging in a tub of water. It puts out enough heat to keep the inside temperature about eight degrees warmer than outside. Surprisingly, I’ve found that most plants can tolerate quite cool conditions, as long as the humidity is OK and they are protected from drafts. I’ve had temps dip down to 30F with very few ill effects (except for certain vandas and phals). I believe that it is also important for daytime temps the following day to climb at least into the 50’s to avoid problems.
I’m also involved in a conservation project of my own design (under a special permit issued by the State of Florida) to try to save Tolumnia bahamensis from becoming extinct as an American species. It is our only equitant oncidium, and only about 125 wild plants are known to exist in a very tiny area here in Florida. My project incorporates selective cross-breeding and artificial propagation (flasks from both the 2002 and 2003 seasons are at two separate labs), as well as observing environmental factors that could be behind its demise. The following photo (2X magnification when viewed at 1024 by 768 resolution) is a plant in flower:
In spite of foraging rabbits destroying plants, hikers trampling them, and a poacher stealing a couple this past spring, my pollinations are producing natural seedlings. I’ve also fenced-off three critical areas to protect them from further environmental damage. I’ve applied for conservation grants, but strangely, for one reason or another no organization wants to support this project. One group said that since I can’t provide solid reasons why they’re disappearing, they won’t participate! Oh well, hopefully someday others will appreciate the fact that these amazing little plants have been preserved for their enjoyment... If you’d like to read more about my project and see more photos, click here.
For the beginning hobbyist, I would strongly recommend Ortho’s All About Orchids. You can pick up a copy for $11 (I think) at Home Depot, or find it for under $10 online at Amazon.com. Also good is the Golden Guide to Orchids. It gives a great overview of many species, where they are from, and a few basic cultural notes. If you really get "bitten" by the species bug, I would recommend The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Orchids, by Alec Pridgeon, and An Illustrated Survey of Orchid Genera, by Tom and Marion Sheehan. If you would like to read about some interesting orchid collection "safaris," try Orchids Travel by Air, by D. Mulder, T. Mulder-Roelfsema, and A. Schuiteman. And finally, Orchid Fever, by Eric Hansen, gives an eye-opening view of the darker side of the business of orchids, and the tragic things that have happened in the past -- and continue to happen -- to our beloved plants!
For those of you who have an interest in Florida species, I have two books that are indispensible in this regard. The first is an out-of-print classic, and highly sought-after as a collectible. It’s The Native Orchids of Florida, by Carlyle A. Luer. I would recommend haunting eBay if you are looking for a copy, because antique book dealers are scalping $250 and more for this book. I would guess that eight copies per year or so are auctioned off on eBay. (Expect the winning bid to be between $125 and $175.) The other title is Wild Orchids of Florida, by Paul Martin Brown. Mr. Brown did a tremendous amount of research for this book, which in some cases resulted in changing scientific names back to earlier references. The bibliography alone is a tremendous resource.
If you’re interested in Australian natives, including the genus Sarcochilus, then I highly recommend Cultivation of Australian Native Orchids, by Richards, Wootton, and Datodi; and Sarcochilus Orchids of Australia, by Walter Upton. I ordered my copies from an excellent orchid book distributor, Orchidaceous Books.
Angraecoid-lovers will want to pick up a copy of Fred Hillerman’s book, A Culture Manual for Angraecoid Growers. It’s $7.95, and I got my copy along with some plants from Hoosier Orchids. In spite of the fact that it’s a short book (47 pages), Hillerman has covered all the basics, as well as organized some species-specific details in unique ways. Hillerman was a very prolific writer on these wonderful orchids, and in the back is a good bibliography that includes references to many of the articles he wrote for the AOS Bulletin. I’ve been specializing my collection in these species, and would welcome e-mails from others.
The latest book from the American Orchid Society, the updated Orchid Pests and Diseases, is an excellent guide. It covers environmental problems, insects, mites, slugs and snails, bacterial and fungal infections, and recommended treatments. It’s full of clear photographs to make identification of symptoms easier. If your problems are difficult to diagnose or are more complex than can easily be answered on the Forum, then this is your answer.
There are many excellent online sources for orchid information. There is one that stands out among the rest, for information on species. This is Jay Phal’s website, found at www.orchidspecies.com. I don’t know Jay personally, nor do I have any financial interest associated with his website, however, I would like to offer a suggestion to those of you who visit his site often. It is expensive maintaining a site such as his, and a token offering of five or ten dollars once in a while will ensure that it stays up and running for as long as Jay is able.
If you’d like to find cultural information for a particular species or genera, I would recommend using Google. Type in the name, and also the word "culture." For most plants out there, you should get a few hits. For photographs, click on the Images tab above the query window, and type in the name of the species (or hybrid) you’re looking for. This will usually result in a few pages of thumbnail images, which you can click on to see an enlargement and the originating page. Sometimes if you aren’t specific with the species and just use the genus, you’ll come up with a few more images. There are occasions I find that I can’t access Google for one reason or another. AltaVista offers a good alternative, and also has image searching.
Another website that is an excellent resource for culture information and local climatological data for many species is the one maintained by Charles and Margaret Baker. Most of their culture sheets for individual species are for sale only, but the list at their free index is comprehensive enough that you should be able to find a species close enough geographically to the one of interest to be useful.
Here’s my collection:
(m)= mounted, (b)= basket, "P"= photo of entire plant, "*"= photo of bloom
Aerangis appendiculatum(m), articulata(m) P *, biloba(m) P *, citrata(b) P, clavigera(m) P *, cryptodon(m), curnowiana(m), decaryana(m), distincta(m), ellisii subsp. grandiflora(m), fastuosa(m) P *, kirkii(m), kotschyana(m), luteo-alba var. rhodosticta(m), modesta(m), mooreana(m), mystacidii(m), platyphylla(m), punctata(m) P *, spiculata(m), splendida(m) P, umbonata(m), verdickii(m)
Aeranthes grandiflora(m), henricii(m)
Angraecum breve(m), compactum(m), didieri(m), distichum(m), dolii(m), elephantinum(m), equitans(m), florulentum(m), leonis(m) P *, Longiscott ’Lea’(b), magdalenae, pinifolium(m), rutenbergianum(m), scottianum(m) P *, sesquipedale(b), viguieri(m)
Mystacidium capense(m) P
Ascda. Princess Mikasa(b)
Brassavola cucullata(m), nodosa(m)
Brassia Chieftan ’Louise’
Bc. Maikai ’Louise’, Bl. Morning Glory, Blc. Blue Grotto ’Soft Touch’, Blc. Mem. Helen Brown ’Ta-Hsin’, Blc. Robert Ferguson ’Florida Sunset’, Blc. Three Suns ’Sun #16’ AM/OSROC, Blc. Toshie Aokie ’Pokai’, Blc. Williette Wong ’The Best’, Blc. Yonges Island ’Newberry’ X Blc. Star of Bethlehem, C. Bactia Fireball ’Lea’, C. Chocolate Drop ’Kodama’, C. Hail Storm, C. Hawaiian Wedding Song ’Virgin’, Lc. Fire Dance ’Patricia’, Lc. Gila Wilderness ’Majestic’, Epc. Burdekin Surprise ’Aranbeem’, Epc. Rene Marques ’Flame Thrower’ *, Epl. Little Nuggets ’Mendenhall’
Chiloschista lunifera(m), pusilla(m)
Cycnoches chlorochilon ’Green Giant’ P
Cymbidium simulans x dayanum(b), Cym. Golden Elf ’Sundust’, Cym. Nut ’H&R’
Den. Burmese Ruby, Den. Golden Aya(b), Den. Gold Star ’Orange Royal’, Den. Jacquelyn Thomas, Den. Kalagas ’Louise’, Den. Maui Big Boy ’Giant White’, Den. Velvet Melody ’Red Angel’(m)
Dendrophylax lindenii(m) & flask
Dgmra. Skywalker ’Red Star’
Dockrilla linguaeforme(m), teretifolium(m)
Encyclia adenocaule(m), alata(m), altissima, boothiana(m),bractescens(m), cochleata(m), cordigera, dichroma(m), garciana(m), gracile, phoenicia(b), radiata(m) P *, randii, tampensis(m) *, tampensis albolabia(m)
Epidendrum ciliare(m), floribundum, nocturnum minor(m), parkinsonianum(m), stamfordianum(m)
Epigenium triflorum var. orientale(b)
Gongora galeata(b) *
Ionopsis utricularioides ’Rosada’(m)
Laelia albida(m), anceps alba(m), anceps Veitchiana ’Louise’(m), briegeri, crispilabia, duveenii, jongheana(m), liliputiana, lobata ’Jeni’(m), lucasiana, lundii(m), milleri, purpurata(m), reginae, rubescens semi-alba(m) P *, tereticaulis
Macradenia brassavola pecosa(m)
Mtdm. Carol ’Akatsuka’
Mtssa. Cairns ’Haiku Monarch’
Neofinetia falcata (Anami Island type)(b)
Neo. falcata x Asctm. Sidhi Gold(b)
Oncidium floridianum(b), hastatum(b), maculatum (b), sphaeculatum
Onc. Golden Sunset(m), Onc. Golden Luis ’Hapsburg’(m), Onc. Illustre ’Volcano Queen’ (maculatum x leucochilum)(b), Onc. Sharry Baby ’Red Fantasy’, Onc. Sharry Baby ’Sweet Fragrance’
Paph. Maudiae ’The Queen’, Paph. philippinense (JEM AM/AOS X ’Jack’)
Phal. Abendrot ’Frank Smith’ X Phal. East Bay Joy ’Odom’s Pink Angel’, Phal. Paul Tatar ’Memphis’ X Massachusetts Stripe ’Normandy’
Psychopsis papilio (possibly a mislabeled P. Kalihi)
Vanda. Annette Jones(b), V. Charungraks Delight(b), V. Kampirananda x Ascda. See Chang(b), V. Paki ’Esther Motes’(b)
Zygopetalum Alan Greatwood X (Z. Arthur Elle - John Banks)
I live in: US
My zone is: z8a NW FL
My favorite forum 1 is Orchids.
My favorite forum 2 is Orchid Gallery.
First registered on March 24,2002.