This week we visit the United States Botanic Garden (USBG) in Washington, D.C., located at the footsteps of our Nation's capitol.
Christine Flanigan is the programs manager at USBG and tells us about this exciting garden. It was founded in 1850, they're an agency of the U.S. congress and affiliated with the Library of Congress, a part of the legislative branch. USBG has a tropical jungle, a desert garden, an oasis, a garden primeval, a plant exploration house and two galleries with fascinating exhibits about the importance of plants. This garden has over 30,000 plants, one of its' strongest collections is Orchids. There are about 5,000 Orchids on display. Their Orchid collection features plants from around the world. Orchids are "hot," they're widely available, less expensive than before and if the correct one is chosen, easy to grow.
Clive Atyeo is an Orchid specialist at USBG and has been working with Orchids for over 43 years. Clive first shows us about several unusual varieties.
First we look at a Spider Orchid. It is a Brassia and comes from Costa Rica. Clive thinks they will become more popular. It's most likely shaped as it is in order to attract pollinators.
Charlie sees an Orchid that looks like something he might have given his date for a prom. It is a Lady Cattleya. It has big color, a big lip and is a hybridized plant.
A smaller Orchid is Calanthe Barron Shrowder. It is kept dry for about 6-8 weeks during the winter months and looks like it has two or three colors on one flower. Its bloom lasts about 2 months. This Orchid and other Orchids like humid conditions.
Pansy Orchid Miltonia is a Miltoniopsis and has a beautiful flower. The lower part instead of being called a petal is called a mask. Different variations look like butterfly wings, a red velvet color. They have a yellow stem, then a white cap, that is the pollen cap. Orchids are different from other plants in that their pollen is soluable. If you lift the pollen cap off, several globs of yellow appear, that is the pollen. It isn't the dust type pollen, thus they don't drop pollen all over a table and they shouldn't create allergies.
We next view a Promenaea, a very small Orchid that is a hybrid between 2 Promenaeas. They would be great if one has limited space in the home, they could be grown in a window sill, depending on the temperature. It needs fairly cool conditions. It stays low and the flowers cascade over the edge. It's blooms last 3-4 weeks.
The Black Orchid is interesting, most of the flower is green but the lip is black. Thus the name Black Orchid, Coelogyne Pandurata. It is an exotic tropical.
We have been looking at Orchids with beautiful flowers but some are known for their foliage, for example the Jewel Orchid. It has a beautiful dark colored leaf with red etched patterns, and is beautiful even when not flowering. It is one of the few Orchids that can be grown from a cutting. Take it off, stick it in a peat like mix and it will root and start growing.
Dendrobiums are fabulous looking Orchids. This one has a nice pink coloring. It is Dendrobium Nobly Hybrid and has very pretty markings. In the winter it requires very little water. When the buds start to form on the canes, water it a little and it will thrive. The flowers last 3 or 4 weeks. It has a dark color in the center and is a stunner. One specie has flowers that hang down and fuzziness around the lip.
We've looked at some exotic Orchids we now look at more simple or common varieties, Orchids that can be grown at home. We view these in the Garden Court at USBG. These are varieties that might now be found at grocery stores, they are easy to grow and their blooms last a long time. Phalaenopsis, the Moth Orchid is the queen of easiest Orchids to grow. The flowers look like little moths. There are a variety of Moth Orchids ranging from the species with a little flower all the way to the hybrid which has a huge flower. That has been the trend with hybrids, create a bigger flower and more of them. They have been developing yellows and reds. The most common is white with a yellow throat and lip, then comes the lavender with stripes followed by darker lavender and pink varieties with large flowers. There are different sizes of flowers with the Phalaenopsis, some with very small flowers. The smaller flowers do have more flowers for each flower stalk and a nice branching habit. The yellow variety is the new kid on the block, it has caused more interest because if a yellow is crossed with a red it intensifies the red. This variety flowers for months, Charlie had one at home that flowered for 4 months. All he did was water it.
After flowering count up from the base 3 and 1/2 nodes, then cut with a sterilized tool. It should then branch into a secondary spike, sometimes more. It is possible to have 3-5 spikes of Phalaenopsis blooming all at once. They like the temperature around 65 degrees at night and in the winter. Be careful with light, don't burn them. The size and color of the leaf will give an idea about light. If the leaf is too light it is receiving too much light, if darker, it's not getting enough. A red tinge to the leaves could also indicate too much light.
The Lady Slipper, Phragmipedium is a complex variety and it can flower up to 2 months. Some have just 1 bud, some have multiple buds. These are called sequential bloomers, its' buds will drop off, then another will kick in, this can go on for a couple of years. Clive has seen as many as 24 nodules on a stem. This variety can withstand lower light but can't take the heat. They like it about 55-60 at night. In the winter put them in a basement area or a separate room with the temperature 55-60 degrees for their flowers to grow. The Mottled Leaf Lady Slipper likes warmer conditions, similar to the Phalaenopsis.
Shorar, Phragmidedium has an unusual red variety. In recent years it was found in Equador and in Peru. There are Mottled Leaf varieties and they usually are a warmer growing variety.
Cattleyas are a little harder to grow but one can't resist the look and the flowers. They smell like heaven and have huge flowers. One is orange and beautiful. They like it about 58-60 at night. Cattleyas are harder to grow and require artificial lights. Grow them in a basement or room devoted solely for Orchids, someplace where they can be under lights, kept growing, watered and fertilized. When they're not in bloom they're not attractive, as they come into flower take them into the living quarters where they can be enjoyed with family and friends. The blooms last for 3-4 weeks.
We next address maintenance. A consideration for growing Orchids, especially in cold winter areas is keeping humidity levels up. Orchids love humidity between 50-60 percent. You can get a humidifier or try this tip. Get a basin, fill it with marbles or stones, about 2 inches deep, then place your Orchids on top of the stones. Fill the stones with water so the level is just below the bottom of the pot. As the water evaporates it keeps the humidity up, the Orchids love this environment.
Phalaenopsis constitute 75% of the Orchids in the marketplace. They require maintenance. How, when and why would one repot an Orchid? When a plant is standing firm in the pot and close to the top, it may just need a top dress. Add Sphagnum Moss and it should go for 6 months. We look at another plant that is about 2 inches above the top of the pot and the roots are cascading out. This one needs repotting. First be concerned about disease and spreading disease. Clive sterilizes his cutters with a flame from a burner. This will prevent the spread of disease from one plant to another and is just needed between plants not between cuts. He digs down and finds a mass of roots, some are alive, some are dead. The brownish-gray roots are dead, they can be cut off. The plump and white roots are healthy. He pulls the mix off the roots. He cuts off the cord, which comes down through the middle of the plant, that way the plant won't sit too high in the container. Clive puts the plant back in the same container. He is using a clay container which dries out faster and more evenly versus plastic which holds more water. Clive works a mix of coconut husks, moss, sphagnum moss and pearlite for drainage and a little charcoal which soaks up excess moisture into the pot. The key with Phalaenopsis, like most Orchids, is the water needs to drain well. When watering, the water should flow down and out of the pot each time. If done properly the Orchid should only need watered once a week to 10 days. Pack the material in so the crown of the plant is level with the pot. Once it's packed in the plant can usually be lifted right up.
Orchids are normally pest free. Two that might be a problem are Mealy Bugs and Scale. Mealy Bugs are white fluffy insects that are found on the bottom of the leaves, they attach themselves, they are sucking insects, sucking the plant juices. They could also be found on the backsides of the flowers. Scale comes in white, brown and other colors. They attach themselves to the backside of flower petals. To control these, dip a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and dab the pest. The alcohol kills them instantly, it is safe for plants, kids and pets. Clive, since he has a larger area, uses a horticultural oil and sprays the plants periodically. He tries to miss the flowers. Nemoil and insecticidal soap will also work.
If you make sure when watering that the water flows through the pot and drains well, if you keep the correct temperature, the right light conditions, fertilize them and control the pests, Orchids will bloom for months.
Thank you Clive for showing us this great Orchid collection.
U.S. Botanic Garden
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