Cymbidiums

Cymbidiums are interesting orchids, and fun to keep! I first saw them up close a few years ago when our local supermarket brought in some really large specimens in mid-winter. It was January/February if I recall.  They were on the expensive side. I think their list price was somewhere in the $40-$65 range, and they were covered with blooms in varying hues.  The yellows and off-whites seemed to predominate.

Cymbidium

Because I didn’t know anything about them, and because I’m apprehensive about spending a lot of money on a orchid plant, especially one that is not sourced from an actual orchid nursery, I didn’t buy any. At the end of the blooming run for these plants, as the flowers were beginning to wilt and fall off, the prices tumbled, as they are want to do, at least for our supermarket for orchid sales. So I acquired a couple plants for $5 apiece. That’s a price where I figured I could take a chance.

I took them home and began to research Cymbidiums. I found out two things of interest – one was that the Cymbidium is the orchid that is typically used in corsages. That’s where I recognized the thick, waxy flowers – corsages I’d helped my sons purchase for their dates to proms in high school. Of course I had earlier exposure to corsages and high school proms. But mine were so many years ago I’d forgotten the flowers completely!

The other interesting fact is that they require a cold period to set their blooms. I read that they need good exposure to temperatures in the 40s in order to bloom again. These were the first orchids I’d owned that could not only survive temperatures this cold, they actually NEEDED them! So after repotting them (originally in coconut husk chips), I placed them outside on our back porch where they received good light and some actual direct sunlight at the end of each day when the sun was low enough to not be scorching. They were watered daily.

As fall approached, I left them outside and watched the low temperatures each night. And I watched the plants to see if there was any sign of suffering from the cold. Low and behold, they not only didn’t suffer, they seemed to ENJOY it!  It’ hard to describe, but it’s almost as if the leaves became more “perky!” The almost seemed to revel in the chilled air!  By late November the temperatures were going into the 30s and the Cymbidiums came indoors.

Low and behold, in early January, I started noticing what looked like new growth from the bark. Little shoots were starting up independently of the rest of the plants. As they enlarged, I realized they were not new leaves, but were in fact flower spikes! And the largest of the plants just kept throwing off more and more of these spikes and then in early February, VOILA! I had a pot full of beautiful off-white pinkish flowers!

The plants have all thrived. They have since been divided and repotted a couple of times. I transitioned to fine bark, and then finally to coarse bark. My original understanding was that they wanted to stay on the moist side. But daily waterings outside was enough, and I seem to have healthier leaves overall using the coarse bark. And that suits me fine! The more of my orchids I can standardize on care, the better. And coarse bark is my staple repotting media.

The plant itself is easy to separate. The leaves grow in bundles, with the base forming a tight clump, almost a corm, for lack of a better description. They are officially still designated as “pseudobulbs” but as I have said in other places on this website, I personally don’t get the term. But then, I’m not officially an orchid expert. And what I call “flower spikes” are still referred to as “racemes” in the technical jargon, but they are flower spikes by any other name…

According to Wikipedia, there are culinary uses for Cymbidiums, but they don’t make it clear if it is the plant itself or the flowers that are being cooked and eaten. I know there are orchid flowers that are eaten. Some are used as garnishes. But as I said, I’m not sure what part of the Cymbidium is considered edible.

Here is a picture of a new leaf bundle (corm? pseudobulb? Call it what you will!) The only reason I know this is a new grouping of leaves instead of flowers is the time of year. The racemes or flower spikes appear in January and bloom in February. This is late February as I write this, and these emergences have just occurred. I’ve never had a Cymbidium bloom this late (it would be March by the time these opened). So it’s possible, but unlikely. At this early stage they look the same. When it gets a little larger it becomes obvious which is forming. So I’ll know shortly one way or the other. I guess it’s possible it will flower and their cycle has been thrown off. This has been a CRAZY winter. The temperatures have been in the 60s during the day for weeks, and should be in the 30s and 40s as the HIGHS, and 20s and 30s at night. So I just wont’ know for sure for a while. But hey, it’s healthy growth. Whatever it is, it’s a good sign!

WATER: Water regularly. I keep my Cymbidiums on the back porch and water them every day throughout the summer and fall.

LIGHT: Cymbidiums like light. My porch is in the shadow of the house most of the day, but very bright. And where the Cymbidiums are placed they receive an hour or two of direct, late afternoon sunlight.

MEDIA: I have experimented with coconut husk chunks (extremely slow to break down), fine bark, and coarse bark. I am currently using the coarse bark and they are doing fine. So the moral of this story is that they are obviously flexible!

TEMPERATURE RANGE: My Cymbidiums stay outside from the first weather where the lows are above the low 40s, to the last days in the fall when the lows are in the low 40s. So they are also there in the blazing heat of the summers, including days in the high 90s.  So to say the least, they are hardy! Some growers may disagree with the extremes I subject them to. But they are now my only orchids that go outside in the summer (it was simply too hot for many of the others, and I was tired of stressing plants.) This may not be the perfect climate, but they do find and if I give them their cold spell at night each fall, they bloom dependably every winter. But they will require as many nights as you can give them in the fall where the lows are in the low to mid-40s. At the very tail-end of this period, you will wind up doing a bit of “yo-yo” work, bringing them in when it’s too cold and putting them back out when they can enjoy a few more days in the 40s.  The flowers are worth the effort!
CARE: Obviously easy to care for. I haven’t killed mine! And I subject them to a 50-60 degree temperature swing (from the low 40s to the high 90s) and water them daily throughout the summer, primarily because of the heat and drying. I do feed them, but not as dependably as my indoor orchids simply because I forget. They are outside and watered with the hose. When I remember, and I’m watering indoors, and I have “Hawaiian Bud & Bloom” mixed up, I’ll take a jug outside and water the Cymbidiums with it.

BLOOMING: Bloom in mid-winter if you gave them sufficient cold nights in the fall.

REPOTTING: Every year or two. I’m currently experimenting with coarse bark and they seem to be doing fine.