Cattleya’s are one of my ALL-TIME FAVORITE orchids. Why? They are easy to keep, grow very dependably, and generally have some of the largest and most beautiful blooms of all! They don’t stay in bloom as long as, say, Phalaenopsis, but the blooms last weeks. And that’s long enough for me.
There are also all kinds of crosses. It seems the Cattleya is one of the favorite parent plants for a lot of different combinations. And, like many orchids, a lot of these species are changing genus’ on a regular basis. So it’s hard to keep up.
For the hobby grower, however, this isn’t critical. Heck, it’s not even a problem. I keep the original tags so I know at least what it USED to be called and whether or not it has been renamed is irrelevant. I at least have its original name nailed down. And so if someone else wants to call it something else that’s fine with me as well.
The Cattleya’s and crosses are typical of orchids with upright stalks with very heavy leaves, all protruding from a rhizome that grows along the surface of the bark. If there is a “c” in the descriptor at all (C., Blc., Lc., Rlc., etc.) then it has Cattleya in it, at least until or unless various plants are shifted from one genus to another. (See the discussion and article in the page on Potinara’s).
This plant is an “Lc”, or Laeliocattleya. It is one of my older plants and It has beautiful pink and white flowers every year. It is possible that the Laelia genus of orchids was named after one of the Vestal Virgins. It is a small genus (maybe 25 or so species) that are beautiful and easy to raise. As with all the orchids in my collection – they either like the environment I provide or they have to live elsewhere! Apparently, they like living here. All of my Cattleya crosses are some of the most vigorous and easy to keep of all my orchids. I have collected them from a number of different sources. Some have been purchased from professional orchid growers through the Internet. Others were purchased on a whim as starts (only a couple inches tall each) from the garden department at Lowe’s Home Improvement store. They typically only have Phals for sale, but for some reason they had four small Cattleya crosses one day when I was there, and I scarfed them up!
This is a “Blc” which stands for Brassalaeliocattleya which is a cross of Brassavola, Laelia, and Cattleya orchids. The physical structures of the crosses all seem to be extremely similar. It appears to be the primary purposes of the crosses is to modify the blooms. They can be some of the most creative combinations of colors I’ve ever seen in nature.
I had read that the Cattleya skinneri was one, if not THE, first orchid found in the wild in South America and imported to England and successfully kept until it bloomed again in captivity. I have since read other stories of the early days of orchid importation and growing that seem to discredit this story, but I was excited nevertheless to find what was at least labelled a Cattleya skinneri pictured here. The flowers are HUGE. They don’t last an inordinate amount of time – perhaps a couple weeks. But boy, are they worth waiting for!
Here is a truly exotic looking cross, a Brassocattleya or Bc. This is a hybrid with really thick, almost pencil-like leaves. It doesn’t flower often. But the plant stays very healthy, grows very slowly, and when it flowers, it’s one of the crowd pleasers because their shape and color are so unusual. This particular flower, with the spectacular pink-speckled white “scooped” front and almost lime-green pedals is the favorite all-time flower of a favorite fellow orchid-grower – my older brother!
Here is another exotic cross, the Bc. Zaikai ‘Mayumi’, another Brassocattleya. This one has the wider leaves more typical of the Cattleya portion of the family tree. It is the Brassavola side of the family tree that provides the thick almost pencil-thin leaves. Again it is an extremely healthy, easy to keep plant. It grows very slowly. It has the thick, solid leaves of a Cattleya cross. And when it blooms, they are beautiful flowers. This isn’t the best photo as there is too much light from the flash. But you get the idea.
Here is another Leilocattleya cross. It’s full name is Lc. Loog Tone ‘African Queen’ (Lc Natrasiri Doll x C Thospol Spot). It has typical Cattleya-type growth, with thick, sturdy stems emerging from a central growing rhizome-like growth along or just under the surface of the bark. What is unusual about this particular plant are the flowers. They are the most brilliant, silky red I have ever seen on anything in my life. You simply have to see them to believe them. It is a color unto itself. They can appear in small groups, such as the 2 or 3 flowers in this picture, or in large groups that are simply breath-taking.
WATER: Water regularly. My normal twice per week is perfect for Cattleya’s.
LIGHT: Cattleya’s love light. I keep Cattleya’s in my “orchid” room in high light spots primarily the higher shelves on my Eastern facing window, exposed to direct sunlight in the mornings and brightest indirect light I can give them the rest of the day.
MEDIA: Like most of my orchids, coarse bark is perfect for Cattleya’s. They will need wires, especially on larger plants, to keep them stable in clay pots.
TEMPERATURE RANGE: Normal household temperature ranges. I can’t speak to its ability to survive either extreme, but it does fine in our normal household range of low- to mid-60s as the winter lows and low- to mid-80s as the summer highs in the house.
CARE: Easy to care for. They are mealybug magnets, so keep an eye out for them. At the first sign of white “fluff”, especially under the dried leaf sheaths at the base of the stems or in the crease where the leaf meets the stem, spray all surfaces with dormant oil. If you keep a keen eye out and spray when you see them, there is really nothing to worry about. People talk about infestations but to my thinking, that’s only a problem if you have so many plants you can’t pay close attention to them. I enjoy my orchids. So I actually enjoy taking care of them. I suppose if I were an employee in a greenhouse, caring for thousands of plants would be a chore. But when I bring mine to the kitchen sink, two at a time, twice a week, I fuss over them. I’ll pull off or cut off a dead leaf. I’ll “tweak” a support here or there. I’ll look under the leaves. Bugs don’t stand a chance in my house. They aren’t there more than a week before they are sprayed and killed. So the word “infestation” has never been in my vocabulary in all the years I’ve raised orchids. I suppose it can happen, but I certainly don’t live in fear of it!
BLOOMING: Cattleya’s have a wonderful variety of rich, vibrant colors and a wide range of sizes, from modest (but oh, so bright!) 2″+ blooms to huge, 5″ and 6″ across flowers unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. And, unlike cut flowers, Cattleya flowers last for weeks!
REPOTTING: Once per year in coarse bark is perfect. Truth be told, I occasionally miss a repotting. Two years should be the MAX. (I have gone longer, I admit. I hit a period of time during my “regular” working career where I traveled so much I actually went 3 or 4 years between repotting a number of my orchids, especially the Phals. But they really suffered. I strongly recommend you repot all your orchids on a 1-2 year cycle, preferably annually.)