Thursday, February 1, 2007

Epicatts: the Spray of the Future

Huh? Spray of the future? You’ve probably seen at least one cross between these two different genera of the Cattleya Alliance, possibly without even knowing it. On the one hand, you’ve got the well-known Cattleya, Laelia and Sophronitis species with large flowers and a whole palette of colors and fragrances. On the other you have plants from the Epidendrum and Encyclia genera, with sprays of many smaller flowers and a different range of colors, also often fragrant. Putting them together can be like combining lemon and meringue, or honey and mustard – you’ve got a whole new taste treat! I say “Spray of the Future” rather than “Wave of the Future” because I don’t think epicatts are going to push regular Cattleya alliance orchids completely out of fashion, but I believe and hope they’ll be making more of a splash at shows and in collections, especially for us urban orchid growers.

What do you get when you cross an epi with a catt? Many encyclias and epis used in epicatt hybrids have a tight habit, with psuedobulbs clustered close together, and a number of species are miniature growers as well. This means many epicatts are mini or compact growers. In addition, they’re fast growers and often produce multiple growths. This, combined with tall, often branching sprays of flowers, leads to massive flower power for the size of the plant. Finally, they have very dramatic colors in shades of purple, rose, brown and green, particularly in the lip. Compared to a straight cattleya hybrid, an epicatt will often have more numerous but smaller flowers, a compact growth habit, and bright color combinations. What’s not to like?

Things get even more interesting when you consider some of the diversity in the Epidendrum group. For instance, Epidendrum conopseum (now Epi. magnoliae) is a tiny, very cold-hardy grower with small, honey-scented flowers, and it blooms on each new growth when happy. Rarely seen as a parent in the past, it’s now being used to create some very small epicatts that are tough, adaptable and often fragrant. Taller epi species like epi. ciliare, epi. criniferum and epi. ilense have extremely fimbriated (that’s “frilly” to most of us) lips, which they can pass on to their progeny. Epi. psuedoepidendrum has a dramatic orange/purple lip, leading to some outrageously-colored hybrids. Encyclia prismatocarpa and epi. stamfordianum have spotted flowers. And for you fragrance fanatics, encyclias such as e. alata, e. cordigera, e. fragrans (of course), e. radiata and e. tripunctata are all wonderfully scented; e. phoenicea and e. randii are even rumored to smell like chocolate, giving the ubiquitous Oncidium Sharry Baby a run for her money. From the breeder’s point of view, it’s safe to say that the surface has barely been scratched on the breeding potential of epicatts.

Most epicatts grow very much like other cattleya alliance orchids: they like medium to high light, a well-draining mix – they also do well mounted, if your humidity levels are decent – and a cooler, drier rest in winter to promote flowering. If you don’t have a sunny window, many of them do just fine under lights, or with grow lights supplementing natural sunlight.

Popular epicatts include:

Epc. Rene Marques 'Flame Thrower': gets its colorful lip from Epi. psuedoepidendrum, and has somewhat tall, canelike growths.

Epc. El Hatilo, a cross between cattleya mossiae and encyclia tampensis, has various clones; they all have rounded white flowers with a magenta lip. Easy to grow, with lots of flowers per spike.

Epc. Siam Jade is somewhat similar; the white flowers have green tepals, flowers are larger than El Hatilo but fewer in number.

Eplc. Don Herman is a cross of Lc. Gold Digger with Epi. stamfordianum, which gives this orchid orange flowers, a red lip, and varying degrees of red spots on the petals and sepals.

Eplc. Pixie Charm combines another orange Lc. with Encyclia alata to create tall sprays of very fragrant light orange flowers.

Brassoepilaelia: this epicatt has no cattleya genes, but the laelia parent is in the Cattleya Alliance, so it fits our definition here. Bepil. Golden Spice 'Red Peppers' (Bl. Richard Mueller x Epi. stamfordianum) has starry bright yellow flowers covered in red spots.

Vaughnara: a trigeneric hybrid combining Brassavola, Epidendrum and Cattleya; look for crosses like 'Grapelade' and 'Sir Walter Raleigh'.

Kirchara: an Epidendrum crossed with a Sophrolaeliocattleya results in some nicely colored minis like K. Tropical Jewel.

Rothara: adds Brassavola to the Kirchara mix; a notable hybrid is Rothara Koolau “Starbright,” with the starry flower shape from the Bepi. Phoenix parent and a deep reddish color from the Slc. parent.

Adamara: Brassavola x Cattleya x Epidendrum x Laelia. Some I’ve seen look rather like encyclias, with long, thin leaves and sprays of flowers. Others, with Encyclia mariae or more cattleya in their background, have rounded flowers on short stems close to the leaves. You’ll also see these under the older hybrid genus name of Yamadaara. (For all you orchid nomenclature freaks, it seems both names were published independently, and only recently has the RHS decided that Adamara was first chronologically, so it has precedence, but the word hasn’t gotten very far yet. Confused? Read on!)

Important Note: Encyclias have recently been split up into a number of new genera like Prosthechea, Coilostylis, and Pollardia, so you will likely start seeing some of these hybrids under new names like Cattleychea. Yes, it can be annoying to keep up with taxonomic changes, but it's all part of the constantly evolving world of orchids. If you like things simple, you probably don't want to get into growing them!

1 comment:

Oria said...

Good for people to know.