Cattleya orchids are also known as the 'Queen of Orchids'. They come in lovely, large, pink, blousy orchid flowers and represent most people's idea of what an orchid flower should look like. The Cattleya orchid flowers are some of the most beautiful exotic fragrance flowers and vary in colors from the beautiful lavenders to deep reds, whites, yellows and even blues. They also vary in size, shape and textures. The blooms are often very large, scented with a sweet perfume and many have very frilly lips and very large petals. There are around 48 Cattleya orchid species and many more hybrids exist. Named in honor of the horticulturist William Cattley, they are from the tropical Americas, but can also be found in the West Indies and Mexico. Cattleya orchids are epiphytes and have well-developed water-storage organs (called pseudobulbs) and large, fleshy roots. Cattleya orchid plants are long-lived perennials and will usually flower annually. These orchid plants are naturally erect, without need of much staking, and of a medium olive-green color. Of the most well-known Cattleya orchid hybrid partners are the Laelia orchids, the Brassavola orchids (also known as the Rhyncolaelia orchids) and the Sophronitis orchids.
Cattleya orchids belong to a group of orchids which is the most flamboyant and colorful of all orchid species. Due to their relative ease of culture and adaptability, Cattleya orchids are among the most popular orchid genus grown. They are a fairly permissive group, cross with many genera which have similar structures and a range of interesting and unique characteristics. Furthermore the Cattleya orchids actually resort to both the intermediate and warm climate group of orchids under cultivation. Cattleya orchids lend themselves to many different types of cultivation – they will grow outdoors in trees in tropical landscaped gardens, they will grow in pots in shade houses and climate controlled green houses.
Cattleya orchids are generally slow growers and can take up to three or even four years to flower. However, once they start flowering they will continue to do so all year round provided that you take care of them and provide them with the optimum conditions in which to thrive.
The ideal temperature range of Cattleya orchid species is between 15 and 30° Celsius (58 and 87° Fahrenheit). Depending upon the temperature, Cattleya orchids should be watered about once or twice a week. In winter the Cattleya orchid plants will become stressed if the temperature drops below 15° Celsius (58° Fahrenheit). Then it is also essential to keep the orchid plant a little drier under those conditions because extended exposure to cold and damp simultaneously will result in rot.
The Cattleya orchid will go into a state of dormancy and will wake up when the weather warms up again. Do not feed or water your Cattleya orchid plant when it is in a state of dormancy else you might cause it damage. During the summer you can water and feed your Cattleya orchid plants. Always protect your Cattleya orchids against frost in the cold winters.
Cattleya orchids require medium to bright light. They will thrive in conditions of cultivation under a 40% shade cloth. (Tip: Dark green but limp foliage indicates too little light.) The Cattleya and its allied intergeneric hybrid orchids are capable of withstanding higher light, but they may become stressed if exposed for too long.
Water and humidity
Cattleya orchids should be watered about once or twice a week. It should be watered frequently, during the hotter months of the year. Cattleya orchids may be allowed to dry out between applications of water. (Tip: Always water your Cattleya orchids early in the day, so that the foliage will be dry by nightfall.) They prefer 40-60% relative humidity. During the summer months be sure to feed and water your Cattleya orchids so as to plump up the pseudobulbs and thus provide nutrients for storage purposes to be used during the winter rest period.
Cattleya orchids are known as heavy feeders. This is especially true during their active growth season in spring. A high nitrogenous orchid fertilizer must be provided on a regular basis during spring because most potting media have little. Furthermore well-rooted plants can be given regular feeds of nitrogen-based fertilizers. During summer the fertilizer type may be changed to a good quality bloom booster that will harden the plant off and prepare it for flowering.
Pests and Diseases
All excess humidity increases the risks of fungus and bacterial infections. This can further result in a loss of new growth and in severe cases even permanent spotting on the leaves.
The ant is a genuine pest when it comes to Cattleya orchids. They love the sugary substance that is produced by the new flowers. They are carriers of scale insects, and you should actually remove old bracts and sheaths and groom the orchid plants regularly.
Virus infection on Cattleya orchids are usually manifested as white striations in the orchid flowers of the Cattleya orchid. This phenomenon is referred to as color-break. This color-break soon develops further into a brown streak and thus marking the orchid flower. Combating virus infections on the Cattleya orchids can be effected by making use of clean secateurs, blades, etc.
Potting mix and Repotting
All Cattleya orchids, including all the hybrid orchid species that has been hybridized from the Cattleya orchid prefers very open, friable potting mix, a very free draining compost containing at least 50 percent bark. They should be potted in a porous, free-draining medium. The most commonly used potting mix are bark, shredded tree-fern fiber, various types of rock like granite chips, processed coconut fiber and lately, mixes based on peat moss and perlite and also osmunda.
Cattleya orchids should be potted on an annual basis when the orchid plant is young or in its active growth period. Once the orchid plant has matured and begun to flower, repotting may occur every alternate year. Some mature Cattleya orchids react by sulking if their roots are interfered with. Repotting of Cattleya orchids is best done soon after flower just when the new growth appears at the base of the pseudobulbs, just before any new roots may have begun.
General tips for Cattleya Orchid care
- Sterilize your cutting equipment to prevent the spread of viruses and disease.
- Repotting actively, healthy orchid plants acts as a catalyst for new growth in Cattleya orchids.
- Cattleya orchids can be divided when they become too big to handle.
- When dividing your orchid plants leave at least three pseudobulbs per division.
- Pseudobulbs on Cattleya orchids tend to make the plant seem heavy at the top – do support your orchid plant with a bamboo cane or even wire support.
- Remove older pseudobulbs to encourage new growth on neglected Cattleya orchids.