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What is an Orchid?

There are approximately 30,000 species of orchid plants. Orchids are therefore the second largest plant family after the grasses, and are found in every part of the world except Antarctica and in marine environments. So, orchids are very popular flower for those who want to send flowers to their loved ones and for sure who want to send flowers using The flower shop. According to DNA studies of Oncidianae (1) some forms of orchid plants have existed for as long as 110 million years.

Pleurothallid culture
This category includes possibly 4,000 species grouped into 29 or 30 genera. These plants are known to inhabit generally higher elevations thruout Central and South America. Within this altitude range are found a variety of habitats including montaine cloud and rain forests, savannah, and semi-arid woodlands with pronounced dry periods. Masdevallia types are found in all habitats; Draculas are only found in very damp cloud and rain forests. The challenge for the collector is to provide analogous climate conditions for these plants artificially, in a home or greenhouse.

Successful Pleurothallid culture requires careful attention to the following items:

– Light
– Temperature
– Water
– Potting medium and method
– Humidity
– Air movement

Most Masdevallias and Draculas grow in deeply shaded habitats under and upon the branches of trees or within the crevices of rocks. A few, such as M. amabilis and M. coriaceae are exposed to several hours of direct sunlight every day. Nevertheless, these orchids can be made to prosper under artificial light, or as houseplants in relatively low-light situations such as in North- or East-facing windows. Draculas must be kept away from strong sunlight as the thin leaves are very suseptible to stress damage.

Without proper temperature control, culture of these orchids can prove extremely difficult. Temperature ranges for these higher altitude plants fall into primarily two categories: Intermediate, from 55 degree nighttime temperature to 75 degree daytime high, and Cool, from 45 degree at night to 68 – 70 degrees during the day. Only a small percentage of Pleurothallidinae are warm growing. The temperature ranges correspond to differing altitudes of the orchids’ habitats. The relationship of temperature to altitude is as follows:

– Warm: (65~85 degrees F) From sea level to 750 meters which includes the coastal littoral and the Amazonian lowlands.
– Intermediate: (55~75 degrees F) From 750m to 2000m. This includes lower montain forest and savannah from Mexico through Central- and Andean South America.The intermediate range corresponds to Cattleya temperatures.
– Cool: (45~70 degrees F) From 2000m to 4000m altitude which includes the cloud and moss forests of the Andean highlands and sub-alpine valleys.

Cooler types will accept slightly higher or lower temperatures for short periods of time; no tropical orchid plant will sustain a freeze. Likewise, sustained temperatures of 80 degrees and above will seriously damage or kill most Pleurothallids. Very few will thrive in temperatures suitable for Vanda or Phalaenopsis: lowland varieties typically grow in shaded locations or near water.

Culture notes for individual species indicate the proper temperature range and the altitude of the native habitat (if known).

Generally, about half of the Masdevallias will require temperatures in the cool range; the others and most Draculas require intermediate conditions. Critical is the need to drop the temperature at night, particularly for many Masdevallia species. For this, air-conditioning may be essential, to provide an adequate period of over-night lowered temperatures. Provided that nighttime temperatures can be lowered into 50-60 degree range, daytime temperatures up to 80 degrees can be sustained for short periods by these plants.

Draculas and most Masdevallias require copious amounts of water. These plants, in general need never thoroughly dry out, as is the case with Cattleyas or Encyclias. The type of plant, the method of potting, humidity and air exchange in the growing area will determine the frequency of watering. The optimum moisture level for most Pleurothallids is midpoint between dripping wet and approaching dryness. Many Masdevallias (as well as most Lepanthes and Pleurothallis species) grow best slightly moist or approaching dryness. Watering , when done must be thorough: misting alone is inadequate. Pleurothallids are very sensitive to water quality. Only salt-free, mineral-free water may be used to water Draculas and Masdevallias. Never use ‘softened’ water on any orchid as this process adds mineral salts (sodium chloride) to water replacing others naturally found in ‘hard’ water. ‘Softened’ water is poisonous to orchids. Where naturally soft, or unmineralized water is unavailable, successful growers use bottled water, collected rainwater, or utilize a reverse osmosis water treatment system to provide pure water. Fertilizing must be approached with restraint. Any commercially available fertilizer is satisfactory for Pleurothallids. Fertilize only two or three times a month, at one-half recommended fertilizer strength. This means, if the fertilizer package recommends one teaspoon per gallon, use one-half teaspoon per gallon. Fertilizer salts, like all other salts are poisonous to orchid plants.

Masdevallias and Draculas are very particular regarding the environment immediately surrounding their roots. All Pleurothallids require excellent drainage. These plants in their native habitats are either epiphytic, that is they grow attached to the outside of tree branches or twigs; or they are terrestrial, in the sense they grow in the layer of leaf litter, mosses and other decaying organic material found either on the ground or on almost every tree limb and rock in the tropic zone. The Pleurothallid evolutionary approach to either habitat is distinct. The proper potting or mounting of each Masdevallia is critical to the successful culture these plants. Even with proper temperature, moisture and air movement, improper potting will result in poor growth or failure of the plant. The roots of terrestrial Masdevallias have fine root hairs similar to those found on Paphiopedilums or Phragmipediums and the potting approach must be similar. Terrestrial Masdevallias, such as M. coccinea, M. veitchiana or M. dynastes must be grown in a ‘close’ environment; in pure New Zealand sphagnum moss or seedling grade fir bark modified with perlite, sphagnum fines, or similar material. Do not use ‘Husky Fiber’ or other coconut products as they are too alkali for Pleurothallids. Pot terrestrial Masdevallias in a glazed ceramic or plastic container only large enough to enclose the root system of the plant.

Epiphytic Masdevallias such as M. strobelii or M. caudata may be grown in a net pot with an extremely open potting mix such as 50% tree fern plus 50% sphagnum moss. In the case of some such as M. nidifica, M. descendens or M. zahlbruckneri; these must be mounted on tree fern or sassafras bark. Mounts should allow air to flow through and cool the root systems: tree fern is best. These orchids do not have root hairs. At the same time the plants are exposed to air around the roots the plants must be watered frequently enough so that they never thoroughly dry out. Exceptions! Masdevallias in the section Coriaceae, such as M. colossus, M. elephanticeps and certain other thick-leaved species such as M. schlimii are capable of withstanding dryness, provided sufficient himidity is maintained.

While Draculas are terrestrial in the wild with their roots almost always buried within a layer of moss and lichens, these plants are usually cultured in a net pot because of their descending inflorescenses, which would otherwise be trapped within a clay or plastic pot. Most Dracula growers have success with pure New Zealand sphagnum moss watered frequently so that the moss never dries. The non-epiphytic Draculas do poorly mounted: an exception is D. portillae. In every case, these orchids will grow best in the smallest container to enclose the roots.

Culture notes for individual species will indicate whether the plant is epiphytic or terrestrial and suggest appropriate culture.

The requirement for high humidity for Masdevallias and Draculas is absolute. Draculas, in particular, are extremely demanding of humidity 90% or above. Without high humidity, Dracula flowers, particularly the hairy, warty flowers of D. wallisii or D. chimaera will blast or fold up. Successful culture of these orchids requires creating an environment capable of providing adequate humidity during all seasons. The usual solution is to create some type of enclosure for the plants; a shaded greenhouse works best. Other solutions such as the use of a basement growing area or a Wardian case are possible. During certain times of the year, such as during the heating or air-conditioning seasons an ultrasonic humidifier or some other means to add moisture to the air will be necessary. Overwatering the orchids , particularly in warm weather will obviously increase humidity, but can also cause serious harm to the plants. Successful hot-weather culture requires less water to the plants and more into the atmosphere. Simple solutions, such as wetting down greenhouse walkways or hanging wet towels within the growing area can add sufficient moisture; providing a lowered nighttime temperature with the attending increase in humidity will provide relief for the plants, as well.

While enclosing the plants in some manner may be necessary to provide adequate humidity, at the same time some means of ventilating the plants and moving the air within that enclosure must be provided. An opening to the outside, such as a window slightly opened or a ventilation port coupled with a vent fan and timer will direct a certain amount of outside air into the growing space. A couple of circulating fans working at 90 degree angles to each other will insure there is proper air circulation around the plants.

Like any garden plants, Pleurothalid orchids are suseptible to various pests and diseases. Improper culture can do serious damage to the plants, for example: improper drainage from the pot will cause the potting medium to sour and the roots of the plant to rot. Over-watering, particularly during warm or hot periods will cause the plant to lose leaves and-or flowers. Improper generally high temperatures will cause plant leaves to turn yellow with red spots and drop off the plant. Poor water quality or excessive fertilizer will cause leaf spotting or marking on Dracula plants, as will exposure to direct sunlight or too high temperatures. Inappropriate potting or mounting of a particular plant will result in the loss of the roots; or the plant will simply refuse to grow, then go into inexorable decline.

The most serious pests of these plants are aphids and slugs. One aphid can turn into hundreds within a few days! The insects suck sap from the new growths and flower stems causing distortion or loss of the growths and flowers. Aphids are dangerous because they can be the agents for the transmission of plant virus such as the Bean Yellow variant which attacks Masdevallias. This, and other viruses are transmitted from other garden plants, such as tomatoes. Slugs have a propensity to devour the new growths or flower stems of the best plants in a collection. A large slug can literally devour an entire small Masdevallia plant overnight! Both aphids and slugs are very difficult to totally eradicate from a plant collection, particularly in a greenhouse environment. At this time, a number of different ‘slug strategies’ are under study. Beer, and other similar traps do not work. Metaldehyde is not recommended; neither are other toxic chemicals. Any successful approach will be posted here. Persistance and daily observation combined with the application of ‘bug recipe’ every 5-7 days will control aphids, scale and other insects. Bug recipe is: 1 tbsp denatured alcohol; 1 tbsp hand dishwashing soap; added to 1 gallon of water; mixed then sprayed on all surfaces of the plants. Periodic application will over time bring these pests under control. Prepare to spray at least 4 times over a month, then monthly, to be determined by observation of pest populations.

Pleurothallids as a group are not the easiest of the orchids to grow and flower successfully. Only a few of the tribe could be considered ‘rampant’ or ‘robust’; the majority are quite intolerant of deviations from what would be considered ideal conditions for each particular plant. This problem is exacerbated by unknown habitats for particular plants and misidentification of many species. Only fieldwork will resolve this particular problem; in the meantime information gained here at the Factory will be posted on this website. Information on individual plants will be posted at each species listing to increase your orchid-growing satisfaction!