The Dazzling World of Dendrobiums--the pendant deciduous types

Orchids belong to the largest group of plants on Earth, certainly the most genetically diverse. The number of species in the orchid family is just mind boggling, by some estimates over 28,000. The number of hybrids is close to 10 times that amount, by other estimates exceeding 250,000  different hybrids, and the the number grow by 1000 or more hybrids each year. Some genera have a few species in them, while giant genera 
 ( Bulbophyllum , Dendrobium ) can have over 1000 species. The genus Dendrobium is now considered to have over 2000 species. Just tackling one of the sections within the genus is a challenge, but I've chosen one of my favorite groups, the pendant deciduous group, mostly from seasonally dry forests of India, Thailand, and Burma / Myanmar.

Dendrobium sulcatum

  Some of the species are petite, such as Dendrobium unicum, measuring 8 or 10 inches in length. Others, such as the hefty Philippine species D. superbum , can have canes that measure over 8 feet in length. The flowers range in color from pure white to flashy multi-colored types with 3 or 4 colors. Flower sizes can range from a modest 1/2 inch bloom to well over 4 inches in the case of the best superbum varieties.

Dendrobium superbum

Dendrobium loddigesii
  Once you understand the growth cycles of the deciduous species, you will find them wonderfully satisfying, since you don't really need to care for them for several months of the year. Certain species in the nobile  group can be grown outdoors almost anywhere in the USA during the summer months, left outside until frost arrives, enjoy the frost, and bloom beautifully. In the subtropical south, the more tropical species enjoy the occasional cool spells, dry winters, and rainy summers reminiscent of their home countries. Most of these species are grown in moss-lined baskets with a potting mix that holds moisture, commonly used mixes include sphagnum moss mixed with coconut husk or fir bark.

Dendrobium parishii a specimen plant

A great many of these species  have fragrant flowers as well as flashy colors. Pay the plants some special attention when they go dormant, and enjoy the blooms in the early months of the following year. The diversity of species available is remarkable, and many of them adapt to home conditions, as well as being excellent candidates for tropical landscaping. Try some small plants to see if you get along with them. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens 

Dendrobium pierardii

Dendrobium parishii

Dendrobium unicum

Growing the plants in this group is remarkably easy, but you must pay close attention to a few critical details. When the plants are growing actively, they need frequent watering and fertilizing. When the plants start their dormant period, watering must be reduced, and fertilizing should stop completely. If you water and fertilize these plants during dormancy, you will reduce or eliminate flowering completely.

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