B U T ....

 "VARIETY is the spice of life" so the old adage goes.

This applies to many aspects of life, but is especially relevant when applied to orchid growing. Everyone, well, almost everyone, will have started their orchid growing in this country with cymbidiums. These plants are readily available, easy to grow, and produce a spectacular and long-lasting display. While there are SOME varieties which can extend the flowering season to almost every month of the year, the majority will flower over a 5 - 6 month period only. 1, and I am sure this will apply to most of you, like to enjoy FLOWERS ALL THE YEAR, and therefore the growing of other genera (of orchids of course!) chosen with care, will ensure there are flowers to be appreciated every month of the year. To grow orchids other than cymbidiums is therefore an attractive consideration because it:-


Of all the forms of plant life, the orchid family is unique in its range of variation of vegetative and floral form. Most other plant families maintain species (and generic) separation by genetic barriers. Orchids, however, achieve this primarily through the pollinator being specific to a single species. The close relationship between the pollinator and the flower has encouraged great floral diversity, as it is through the differences in flower colour, form, scent and flowering times that we haven each species. With some 725 genera and 25 000 odd species, plus many thousands of man made hybrids, there are plenty to choose from

Now you have made the decision to 'try something different', there is the question of 'WHAT TO TRY'? The choice is considerable, although the following matters should be considered

  • 1 Some plants are COOL growing, others require HEAT;
  • 2. Some are EASY, others more DIFFICULT to grow;
  • 3. Some are COMPACT, others take up a LOT OF SPACE;
  • 4. Some flowers are LARGE and FLAMBOYANT 'others SMALL and INTRICATE;
  • 5. Different plants will FLOWER AT DIFFERENT TIMES of the year.
  • 6. Some are CHEAP, others more EXPENSIVE.


If you wish to grow something new, look at WHAT OTHER GROWERS HAVE, and what is displayed at monthly meetings and at local shows. There are also many good books available, those with good photographs will be sure to whet your appetite. If you wish to select plants which will FLOWER AT A SPECIFIC TIME OF THE YEAR, many books, such as Hawke's Encyclopaedia of Cultivated Orchids will indicate this information. More meaningful local information on flowering times can be found in the lists of plant's displayed each month at society meetings. Many societies publish such information in their local newlsetters, which indicates what can grow in an area, and more importantly, when flowers can be expected according to local conditions.

When you start to diversify your collection, try ONE OR TWO NEW GENERA OR SPECIES ONLY AT ONE TIME, to learn their culture, and to see if they will thrive under the conditions you provide. It is inevitable you will have an odd loss', some plants will thrive under the conditions you can provide, but there will be. some that will not, for reasons that will not always be obvious. In this way you learn to handle the requirements of a diverse collection with minimum risk. If a plant is not thriving, do not hesitate to experiment with its growing conditions, but once it is thriving, keep it in those conditions

One of the most important and interesting aspects of maintaining and managing a diversified collection is the READING about the plants - especially regarding their NATURAL HABITATS AND USUAL GROWING CONDITIONS. Plants suitable for the type of growing conditions being discussed here will mainly come from the monsoonal, foothill mountain habitats, where cool conditions are usually experienced, and many publications will indicate plants that come from this or similar areas. Most books will provide data relevant to species. For hybrids, the species included in their makeup can be ascertained from the Sander's Lists of Orchid Hybrids, and the culture relevant to that hybrid will USUALLY be the average of the species involved, depending on the extent each species has contributed to the hybrid.

Well, we have talked enough about the general considerations - what can we grow with cymbidiums. The following recommendations assume only basic growing facilities are available - a suitable window, porch, or unheated glasshouse. For more sophisticated setups, especially for heated facilities, a different selection of species and genera would be appropriate, and different culture would be necessary.

For convenience the list is alphabetical.

BLETILLA - The species striata produces a tall spike of bright mauve 'cattleya' like flowers. It will grow outside in sheltered, well drained positions in Wellington, but also produces a spectacular display in a pot.

COELOGYNE - Some (massangeana) appreciate some heat, but there are a number of cool growing species which produce a handsome display (cristata, ochracea, flaccida). Cristata must have cool conditions with plenty of wind and fresh air in the autumn, with good light, to initiate flowers.

DENDROBIUM - Many will already have the Australian kingianum and its hybrids such as Ellen, which grow easily and well, although water should be restricted over the summer.

The 'soft' cane nobile type also produces a spectacular display. Some people have difficulty in flowering these, but if their specific culture is followed, success should be attained. Nobile comes from the Himalayan foothills, an area subject to the summer monsoon. As a consequence they require warm humid conditions from the time the new growths commence in the spring, till the terminal leaf forms in the autumn. Then they require cool conditions, and to be kept drier and provided with bright light levels until flowering is completed and new growths are broken again in the spring.

There are other dendrobiums, especially those showing a similar seasonal growth pattern, which will also be suitable.

EPIDENDRUM - A number of species, but especially ibaguense (syn. radicans) is a good plant to start with.

LAELIA - There are a number of cool growing species (albida, autumnalis, ancepts, gouldiana) which all produce attractive displays. While we usually think of cattleyas as requiring some heat, the Laelia cattleya hybrids (LC) involving the above cool growing species can also make satisfactory subjects for cool house culture. For these, and some other warmth-requiring plants, the use of a coarser growing media kept dryer during cooler periods will often be sufficient to ensure good growth. Always remember that root health is always paramount. If a strong, healthy root system can be maintained, generally success with the plant will automatically follow.

LYCASTE and ANGULOA - These produce spectacular and attractive flowers. Some produce large leaves which can be a problem where restricted space is available, although some of the Deciduosae Section (the deciduous yellow species - aromatica, cruenta, deppei, etc.) are more compact, and produce a spectacular display. Their leaves can become disfigured easily, but these are deciduous. Plenty of air movement, and care with watering and mix usually ensures success. When growing well, the larger pseudobulbs and plenty of flowers show their pleasure.

MASDEVALLIA - These are becoming increasingly popular, having a mixture of spectacular, intricate and variously sized and coloured flowers. Most are nice and compact in size.

MAXILLARIA - Species such as nigrescens and picta make attractive specimens, many of the species having a pleasant fragrance which adds to their appeal.

MILTONIA and MILTONOPSIS - Includes the warmer growing spectabililis type miltonias and the cooler growing 'pansy' Colombian type Miltonopsis. The grower should have some experience, as the plants require additional care, but they do find popular appeal.

ODONTOGLOSSUM - Cool growing plants producing spectacular flowers. Their culture requires some special care, and experience with other genera before these are attempted is recommended.

ONCIDIUM - There is a considerable grouping of cool growing species from the following sections:

  • Crytochilum Section - e.g.falcipetalum, macranthum, serratum
  • Rostrata - e.g. ornithorhynchum, cheirophorum
  • Cueullata - e.g. olivaceum, nubigerum

Mountain habitats which naturally experience cool dry bright winters, with warm, moist, humid summers - conditions which generally can he provided with care. Plants from this grouping are:

  • Pluvinata Section e.g. robuslissimum
  • Waluewa e.g. pubes, lietzii
  • Concoloria e.g. concolor
  • Crispa e.g. crispum, forbesii, gardneri, marshallianum
  • Synsepala e.g. varicosum, flexuosum
  • Verrituberculata e.g. batemanianum

Of the other sections of the genus, there are some suitable species with incurvum and sphaculatum springing to mind. Many oncidiums are highly adaptable to different culture, which enhances their value.

Many oncidiums (Crispa and Synsepala Sections) prefer to be mounted on a block of tree-fern or similar, which also adds some additional variation to a collection of predominantly potted plants.

PAPHIOPEDILUM - Some green leaved plants (insigne, Leeanum) are suitable for cool house culture, giving a good display.

PLEIONE formosana Small plants producing comparatively large flowers. When in growth grow in warm place and keep rnoist. When growth is complete, in late autumn, allow to dry and remove bulbs completely from mix, and keep cool and dry. In late winter/early spring repot and commence watering when growth is apparent. Flowers will follow in a few weeks. Then the leaves and bulbs will subsequently form. A massed display of these compact plants makes an eye-catching display. Grow a number of plants in the same pot for best effect.

ZYGOPETALUM - Grow like cymbidiums, but produce most striking, distinctively coloured, flagrant flowers.

There are other plants which could also be suggested, but this should give you a good idea of the possibilities available.

If you wish to extend the number of plants you can consider, some supplementary heat during the winter will be required. A relatively cheap and effective way to provide this is to use BOTTOM HEAT, provided by way of a heat board or propagating bed with sou warming cable. These are not that expensive and are cheap to run, providing warmth to the roots. Many warmer growing plants can be accommodated in this way without hav- ing to go to the considerable expense of air heating.

If you only have cymbidiums at present, do try something else. This will open up a whole new world of interesting plants and flowers.

Detailed cultural information on many of these plants is available elsewhere on this site.

(From a talk to the Wairarapa Orchid Circle 6/6/83)

Site established 9th May 1998