Prized Orchids to Grow and Treasure

Endangered orchids

If we hear that an item is rare – be it a jewel, or an item of clothing, or a plant – the very idea that there is limited stock of whatever it is available can send our minds into overdrive; knowing that there is a restricted quantity of the product in question in existence, can fervently increase our desire to own the item – we don’t want to miss out after all!  Sadly our desire to keep ahead of the pack and our wish to surround ourselves with beauty, to grow exotic plants, in less than exotic locations, has led to the over collection and the extinction of many plants growing in the wild, including a great many orchids, from a vast number of locations around the world.

Orchid nurseries and suppliers

I grow many rare orchids, including orchids that are critically endangered in the wild.  It doesn’t sit easily with me that my plants are one of a limited number of plants that remain of these species and that a number of these rare plants are with me, instead of growing in their natural habitat.  I also hate the thought of purchasing plants that are taken from the wild, I do all that I can to purchase plants that are grown in cultivation – I would never knowingly purchase a plant that was collected from the wild.  Wherever I can, I purchase plants from trusted growers such as the Writhlington Orchid Project, who raise their orchid plants from seed themselves and are genuinely interested in the long term future of the species of plants they’re growing.  The Writhlington Orchid Project respect the environment, the people, the country, and the landscape where the plants that they’re growing originate from.  However, it is not always easy to tell who you can trust.  If you’re looking at plants online or at a plant sale, it can be difficult or even impossible to tell for certain whether the plants you’re looking at were collected from the wild or grown in cultivation.  Here is a tip – if you purchase a flask of young orchid seedlings, you can be certain that your plants were grown in cultivation and not taken from the wild.  I purchase flasks wherever I can.

The glass jars you see pictured are known as flasks. Orchid seed can be sown successfully in cultivation, in sterile conditions inside flasks like these. The developing orchid seedlings can be grown on inside the flask until they are large enough to potted on or mounted.

Rare plants need our protection.  A plant may be rare, but being rare does not necessarily make a plant an ideal choice to grow; knowing that a plant is a rarity doesn’t in itself make for a desirable plant.  A rare plant may be ugly, it might be difficult to grow, it may have challenging growing requirements; a rare plant may have small, inconspicuous blooms and the plant might not flower for long.  A plant could have almost any characteristics, but being rare does not make a plant good, it just means that there’s a limited supply.

Qualities that make for a good houseplant

There have been so many advances in plant breeding.  For goodness knows how many years, plant breeders have been breeding Phalaenopsis – the people’s favourite – the moth orchid, to produce rather glamorous Phalaenopsis hybrids – plants that have almost mythical qualities.  These plants have been especially bred to be floriferous – they’re ready and willing to flower; these Phalaenopsis hybrids grow inside our centrally heated homes – in essentially very similar conditions to those found in areas of desert, which is quite unlike any of the areas that the original Phalaenopsis species originate from!  These Phalaenopsis hybrids are amazing!  Phalaenopsis hybrids can bloom all year round.  In the ideal conditions and with the right care, Phalaenopsis hybrids can even bloom for years without pausing for breath!  Whereas, in comparison, some of my rare Phalaenopsis, or the rare Angraecum and Aerangis species that form part of my National Collections are shy to bloom, many of these plants abort their flower buds for seemingly no reason whatsoever: perhaps the temperature rose a couple of degrees warmer or colder than the plant required for successful flowering one afternoon, or perhaps the light or the humidity level dropped one morning?  Who knows?

Phalaenopsis wilsonii pictured in flower, on the 16th April 2018.

Many of my plants from these rare orchid species produce flowers once a year and these flowers fade within a week of opening.  Some of the orchids in my collection don’t flower as often as once a year.  Many of my plants have somewhat of a scruffy appearance, healthy plants may display as many as two leaves, while a number of my other plants are entirely leafless, meaning that those unfamiliar with the natural habit of these plants could think it a kindness to tidy them up and throw them out or compost them!  I love these wild plants, I want to help to conserve them and protect them in the wild, which is why I set up and maintain a National Collection of Miniature Phalaenopsis species and a National Collection of Miniature Aerangis and Angraecum species, but I wanted to let you know about the reality of what a rare plant is.  It’s exactly that a rare plant, a plant that’s in limited supply a plant that is in desperate need of our protection, please don’t let the term ‘rare’ mean anything else to you.

Chiloschista lunifera, as pictured on the 7th September 2017.
Phalaenopsis ‘Sunny Smell. Phalaenopsis are long-flowering plants that make a welcome addition to the home when grown as a house plant, they also make a super gift.
Phalaenopsis ‘Sunny Smell’

Hybrid Phalaenopsis

If you’re looking to purchase orchids, but you’re are anxious about buying a plant, as you don’t wish to purchase a rare or endangered plant, let me help you – you could purchase a Phalaenopsis hybrid, a plant that was especially bred to grow in the conditions found inside our homes and was created in cultivation, like Phalaenopsis ‘Sunny Smell’ or Phalaenopsis ‘New Life’ – two new scented Phalaenopsis hybrids that are grown by British Nursery, Double H Nurseries, in New Milton.  In the UK, these orchids are widely available – you can purchase these plants from Waitrose and Marks and Spencer.

Phalaenopsis ‘New Life’ is a new hybrid Phalaenopsis, which has been specially bred to flourish in the conditions found inside our homes.
Phalaenopsis ‘New Life’ is a fragrant Phalaenopsis, this orchid’s flowers produce a pleasing, light floral perfume, which is most noticeable in the morning.

There are many other Phalaenopsis hybrids offered for sale, most of these plants are not named but this does not affect their beauty – if you find a new favourite Phalaenopsis hybrid, don’t let the absence of an official name prevent you from acquiring a new plant, the majority of the hybrid Phalaenopsis plants that are sold, are offered for sale without a name.

These days, you’ll find Phalaenopsis plants that are grown in the UK are more widely available, look out for Phalaenopsis plants for sale that bear the Union Flag in supermarkets, nurseries, and garden centres, these plants are grown at Double H Nurseries, at New Milton, in Hampshire, in the south of England.

Phalaenopsis are a widely available orchid, which can be grown as a houseplant.

Gastrochilus retrocallus

If you would rather grow an orchid species than a hybrid, I like to recommend some plants that you can grow yourself without having to worry about how the colonies of that particular species are fairing in the wild.  It’s always a wonderful feeling when you discover a beautiful and floriferous orchid,   If you’re looking for such a plant, let me first introduce you to Gastrochilus retrocallus.  This is an orchid that I have known as Haraella retrocalla, but which my friend Bala Kompalli – a wonderful Botanical Horticulturist, who is in charge of the orchid collection at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew – reliably informs me has had its name updated.

Haraella retrocalla pictured in bud.

Gastrochilus retrocallus is an orchid species that is ready and willing to bloom!  This orchid is easy going, it will happily grow in the temperatures found inside our homes.  Gastrochilus retrocallus simply flourishes when the plant is grown mounted on cork, but if you wanted, you could grow this orchid in a small pot (choose a pot that features many drainage holes and fill your container with a speciality orchid compost – a free draining mix comprised of fairly large pieces of bark).  I find that Gastrochilus retrocallus is tolerant of many light levels, favouring filtered, diffused light.  Gastrochilus retrocallus flowers are large and almost wooly, they produce a light citrus fragrance!  If you’re interested, you can find more information about Gastrochilus retrocallus here.

A Haraella retrocalla bloom.

Macroclinium manabinum

In this photograph you can see this Macroclinium manabinum specimen is made up of both older leaves and new leaves, pictured on the 15th May 2018.

Macroclinium manabinum is a fabulous plant that forms rather wonderful, spiky fans of leaves, which are a fresh leaf green when they first emerge, with a soft, fleshy texture, but as each individual leaf ages, it toughens up and hardens, the outer coating of each leaf becomes armoured, it develops a scaly texture and a darker patina, with a deep reddish, purple, grey, or blue hue – depending on the light.  Macroclinium manabinum is such a floriferous orchid, these plants just flower and flower!  I find that this miniature orchid favours a drier environment than many orchid species, there’s no need to mist this orchid every day, plants enjoy a light mist of rainwater every three days or so, depending on your set up.  You don’t need a terrarium to grow this orchid, you could grow your plants very successfully indeed without an enclosure of any kind.

Macroclinium manabinum, as pictured on the 15th December 2017, inside my Miniature Orchid Trial BiOrbAir Terrarium.

Macroclinium manabinum is a miniature orchid that produces pendent flowers, they’re like rather glamorous earrings, these inflorescences need to be studied closely to be fully appreciated, as this orchid’s blooms display a delicate form and iridescence that can only be observed by those who take the time to arrange a close encounter.

Macroclinium manabinum, as pictured on the 9th December 2017, inside my Miniature Orchid Trial BiOrbAir Terrarium.
Macroclinium manabinum, as pictured on the 9th December 2017, inside my Miniature Orchid Trial BiOrbAir Terrarium.

Mediocalcar decoratum 

Medicalcar decoratum is another super orchid species, this plant is easier to grow inside a terrarium or bottle garden, as this orchid requires a very humid environment to flourish.  Mediocalcar decoratum requires frequent misting with rainwater, I find that this miniature orchid enjoys being misted with rainwater at least five to seven times a week.

If your Mediocalcar decoratum plant grows well, you can divide your plant, to produce more plants for your friends and family, which is such a lovely and uplifting thing to be able to do!

Mediocalcar decoratum is an orchid with a creeping habit which can be divided to make new plants.

Mediocalcar decoratum produces vibrant orange coloured, round bell shaped flowers, which adorn the plants, like rather charming baubles.  The blooms are usually both long lasting and abundant.

Masdevallia nidifica

Masdevallia nidifica is a free flowering orchid that is sure to delight you!  This miniature orchid flourishes in damp, very humid conditions, this particular species originates from cloud forests in areas that experience breezy weather conditions, so this plant does best when it’s grown with a good level of air circulation around the plant.  To repay your efforts, Masdevallia nidifica flowers throughout the year, the plants are quick to boom, producing very interesting, soft yellow coloured flowers, which are marked with a few fine stripes and adorned with long tails at the tips of each bloom.

Masdevallia nidifica is a miniature orchid that hails from Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Costa Rica, and Panama, where it can be found growing upon trees, in mountainous cloud forests.

I hope that this article helps you to find a new favourite orchid that you’ll really enjoy growing.  All of these aforementioned orchids are easy to grow and quick to bloom, I hope that I can help you to discover a new orchid that will impress, excite, and delight you!

Other articles that may interest you…………

For tips & tricks to help you grow and flower Phalaenopsis orchids, please click here.

To see a planting list of orchids, ferns, and other plants for terrariums and bottle gardens, please click here.

For tips and ideas of how to use less plastic, please click here.

To read about Nick Johnson, a horticulturist from Kew, who now manages the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park in the Cayman Islands, please click here.

For a step-by-step guide of how to plant up a terrarium or bottle garden, please click here.

To read about the Queen of Orchids, the largest orchid in the world, please click here.

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