27.7.11

It Had to Start Somewhere- Paphiopedilum Species:
the Height Challenged Group

P. bellatulum
I am an unabashed orchidholic, primarily because there is an unending array of plants to be grown, climate and facilities permitting, of course. The Asian Ladyslippers, usually abbreviated as "Paphs" to avoid the tongue-twisting name of Paphiopedilum , have captured imaginations of orchid fanciers for a century and a half. The unique flower shapes, art-deco colors, and dazzling mixtures of spots, bars, hairs and long lasting flowers makes these plants a real treat in a plant family that often has so few of these traits. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions in this group which add to their cachet of being royalty. I do not have the conditions to grow this group just yet; my conditions lend more toward growing Cattleya and Dendrobiums.

I have a few of the larger multi-floral Paph. types, since they like a lot of light and less water. Yet I know of local growers who have great success with this group outdoors, and I hope you will attempt some of the robust yet petite species in your collection. Once you see a mature plant of P. bellatulum at an orchid show with its gorgeous flower spots on a plant only 4 inches tall, you might be hooked as well.   

One of the most fascinating of their aspects is that Paphs cannot be effectively tissue cultured. This leads to a slower turn in plant availability from seed-grown plants, and as such, prices remain higher. Some of the champion plants demand several thousand dollars per division, and have done so for many decades. The plants are being grown for the mass-market and I see them show up at garden retailers, but the plants are still more expensive than Dendrobiums or Phalaenopsis.

There are several breeding groups in the Asian Ladyslipper. Loosely categorized by the growing public as the "bellatulum" group seen here, the "Maudiae" group ( next blog), and the "multifloral" group, often containing the largest species of all in the genus, ( coming soon to a blog near you). There are numerous inter-section hybrids, and the names of the sections change names regularly, but these are the 3 largest groups I know of. Naturally, hybridizers like to cross widely diverse species to see what will happen, with some fascinating results.


P. concolor

In speaking programs I often talk about the analogies of orchid breeding to animal breeding. There are "mule" orchid hybrids, meaning they are sterile, as well as improbable hybrids on both sides. Some hybrids are impossible naturally, for instance a Great Dane /Terrier mix would be akin to Paph. 'Gloria Naugle', a hybrid whose parents are over 1000 miles apart, as well as being a giant species crossed to a micro-species. In both cases the results are interesting and fun to look at. The big question, whether animal or plant, is whether the hybrid inherited any of the bad habits of the parents. Some wide-cross hybrids have some strange habits, especially if the parents come from opposing climates or opposite hemispheres ! 

For the casual grower, Paphs have some predictable growing habits. In most cases, a well-drained and moisture-retentive potting mix will suit most of the species you are likely to grow. In the case of the species seen here, bright light without direct sunlight ( about 1500-2000 foot-candles of light) will produce good solid plants. Many growers have reported that adding ground bone meal to the potting mix makes for a stronger plant with solid roots. I have found that any mix that works well for Cymbidiums in your area will do well for this group of Paphs.       


P. micranthum

Some of these "newer" species such as armeniacum and micranthum require broad, shallow pots to allow their rhizomatous root system to grow out from the parent plant. These species are fun to grow, since you  can end up with a small "suburb" of a plant with many flowers over a fairly large area. There are dozens of species to work with, suitable for every climate and even indoor culture. Look into these species, especially for the windowsill grower or space-challenged grower. There are rich colors and wonderful leaf patterns to see as well as a veritable United Nations of origins.


Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens.  




'Gloria Naugle"
micranthum x rothchildianum








P. armeniacum


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