Choosing Orchids that Offer Flowers Galore
THERE ARE QUITE A FEW ORCHIDS that produce only a blossom or two at flowering time that are nevertheless well worth the effort to grow simply because their blossoms are, indeed, singular sensations. Examples that come to mind include the majority of species within the genus Paphiopedilum as well as the incomparable Rhyncholaelia (syn. Brassavola) digbyana and its plainer-flowered cousin, Rhyncholaelia (syn. Brassavola) glauca.
Yet, as the economy slows, growers with less to spend on additional plants may seek to acquire orchids for their collections that offer more bang for the buck, in which case any of the numerous multifloral species will fill the bill. There are so many of these from which to choose that it is difficult to compose a brief list of recommendations.
The Asian genus Rhynchostylis is a good place to start. These vanda relatives are sometimes called foxtail orchids in reference to their long, extended inflorescences that are densely packed with flowers. Culturally, the genus does best with a warm, humid environment and bright light. If you can supply these conditions, look for the species Rhynchostylis gigantea, which produces arching inflorescences. Many color forms are in cultivation, varying from pure white to solid purple as well as most every spotted or blotched variation in between. Rhynchostylis coelestis has upright inflorescences featuring white flowers beautifully marked and shaded in violet. The flowers of both species are fragrant.
The most animated among the multifloral orchids are certainly the species of Brassia. Popularly known as spider orchids, a fully open inflorescence often brings to mind dancers, cheer-leaders or perhaps synchronized swimmers. In any case, the narrow floral segments certainly connote outstretched limbs in motion. Most are easy keepers in intermediate conditions. Give them a bit less light than you would a cattleya. Among the most frequently grown species are Brassia verrucosa, Brassia gireoudiana and Brassia caudata. While Brassia species may not be as floriferous as many examples included here, every orchid collection should include at least one of them.
It is somewhat surprising that species from the genus Arpophyllum are not more frequently grown. They are sometimes called bottlebrush orchids, after their erect inflorescences that are dense with many flowers. The genus is a member of the Cattleya alliance although at first glance you might not even guess them to be orchids at all. Upon close inspection, however, you will notice that each blossom looks like a tiny upside-down cattleya. The upside-down flowering habit is one that botanists refer to as nonresupinate. Arpophyllum species come from Mexico and Central America. They are said to do well in intermediate conditions. The plants can grow rather tall, which may account for their lack of popularity. Arpophyllum giganteum and Arpophyllum spicatum seem to be most frequently cultivated. Both have flowers that range from pink to purple.
Also needing a bit of space are species from the vandaceous genus Renanthera. If you have the space, and the hot, sunny growing conditions similar to those favored by many Vanda species, any of several popular Renanthera species will please. Their native range is from India and China, to the Philippines and New Guinea. The plants have long scrambling stems; some actually grow like vines. In the same way as vandas, they may be grown in baskets or may be attached to a long plaque or slab so that they can climb. The typical Renanthera inflorescence is an explosion of color. Inflorescences are typically large and branched with numerous flowers in shades of red, orange or yellow. Some are spotted or patterned. Renanthera imschootiana and Renanthera storiei are dramatic, while Renanthera monachica and Renanthera bella are among the smaller-growing species.
Another genus with many-flowered inflorescences that do not at first appear to be orchidlike is the Asian genus Dendrochilum. In fact, because of their very narrow foliage, some species, when in flower, are rather reminiscent of an ornamental grass. There are perhaps more than 120 species, although comparatively few of them are commonly seen in orchid collections. Some are called golden chain orchids after their pendent inflorescences. Many seem tolerant of a variety of conditions, although it seems the majority do best with bright light, evenly moist media and intermediate to warm conditions. Dendrochilum cobbianum is one of the most popular within the genus, with pendent stems of pale golden flowers; Dendrochilum wenzelii is among the most colorful examples with arching inflorescences sporting flowers of a reddish hue.
Finally, if you would like to acquire a multifloral orchid with intriguing flowers and a stylish presentation, it would be hard to do better than certain of the Gongora species. Gongora is a New World genus of about 50 species that range from Mexico through the Central Americas and to parts of South America. They are related to Stanhopea and their flowers are similarly bizarre and unorthodox. Some Gongora flowers resemble small creatures in flight; others have been compared to the outline of a swan. Their inflorescences are typically long and pendent, so they are best grown in baskets. Suspend the plant above eye level in order to best enjoy the flowers. The blossoms of many are fragrant. Happily, these orchids are well suited to intermediate growing conditions popular with most hobbyists. Give them some shade for best results. Gongora quinquenervis and Gongora galeata are but two of the numerous species cultivated.
If there is anything better than an orchid that produces two or three beautiful flowers per inflorescence, it is one that produces many at a time. With some careful selection, an orchid grower with comparatively few plants can enjoy literally hundreds of orchid flowers throughout the year.