The Ill-Named "Ground Orchids"- part 2- Reed Epidendrums

Some plant growers have inquired why I named this series "ill-named ground orchids". My reply is that I prefer to call terrestrial orchids by their real names, but almost everyone at the retail level uses the general moniker of "ground orchid", a wildly nonspecific term, about as useful as asking for "food" at a supermarket. In previous blogs I mentioned Epidendrums, one of my favorite orchid groups. In this group alone there are hundreds of species, growing in habitats ranging from near-desert conditions to chilly near-alpine conditions.

Recently the genus has been split into several new groups called sub-genera, and what used to be a reasonably simple game of knowing what was called an Epidendrum is now much more complicated. In this article I will address the reed-stem Epidendrums, usually called "reed" orchids, but often lumped into the "ground orchid" group. Most all of this group is easy to grow,  requiring only bright light and well-drained media. I have seen reed orchids grown in potting soil in pots quite successfully, but I prefer a potting mix made for Phalaenopis for container culture.

These plants also grow quite readily in landscape situations, but I suggest some care in doing so: the plants are very attractive to snails and soil-borne insects. A location with morning sunlight and afternoon filtered light is a great start. Some of the newest hybrids grow as straight as bamboo, and can live comfortably in an 8 inch pot for many years. There are some older "garden" types which sprawl around a bit, well suited for garden planting.

A basket of 'Pacific' series reed orchids
courtesy of Cal-Orchid

Epicattleya Nebo

Epidendrum Galatea

Epicattleya Rene Marques

Epidendrum  Yamada series

The Hawaiian growers have been very active in selecting and breeding new reed orchids with some spectacular results. The range of plant sizes and flower colors is amazing, especially with some new influences and infusions of Cattleya genetics into the reed orchid breeding pool. In many of the best Yamada hybrids, the flower colors could be described as "glowing", "ember-like", and reminiscent of "molten lava". There are some hybrids with lyrical names, like the beautiful Epidendrum Galatea , and the compact Epicattleya Nebo. Cal-Orchids has grown a series of reed orchids called the Pacific Series, and is as compact and well-behaved as any I have ever seen. For those in South Florida, this series can be purchased at the Redland Orchid Sale in May, and occasionally at the Ft. Lauderdale and Miami International Orchid Shows.

Some of the new plants can be a bit pricey, but propagating these plants is simplicity itself. Snap off an 8 inch  tip of any stem  and plant in orchid potting mix. Keep it watered until new roots form, and that's all that need be done. Some growers will lay a cane onto the ground, pin it in place, and let the cane form roots while it is still connected to the plant. The plants need no special fertilizer, simply care for them as you would a Cattleya, allowing the plants to dry slightly between waterings.

Give your reed orchids plenty of strong light and wait for  the flower show. The flowers can last for months on end, with some large clumps of orchids showing flowers for as much as 6 months. Experiment with a few of them, share with your friends, and start a trend in your neighborhood of growing easy-care orchids in your garden.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

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