Thursday, February 1, 2007

New Directions in MiniVan(da)s

No, we're not detailing the 2008 auto models, we’re talking about mini-vandaceous orchids here. There’s been a growing interest in mini-catts, or miniature cattleya hybrids, and for good reason: they don’t take up much space, often flower more than once a year, come in a range of bright colors, and some are quite fragrant, too. What’s not to like? But all these reasons hold true for miniature vandaceous orchids as well, and yet they don’t seem to get the same respect. This article hopes to correct the imbalance.

Many an urbane, sophisticated city-dwelling orchid grower has looked at the giant, pendulous vanda species and hybrids grown in greenhouses and tropical climates and felt, well, rather inadequate. Those flowers, those colors, those roots! But most of us lack the space for even one full-sized vanda, much less a whole collection – and even if we did have space, their requirements of high light, humidity and open drainage put them out of reach for almost all indoor growers.

However, those who crave the colors, scents and growth habits of vandaceous orchids have a whole range of choices in the smaller vandaceous species and hybrids, and new combinations are always coming onto the market. Let’s start with some of the more commonly available ones:

Ascofinetias combine neofinetia with ascocentrum species to produce a range of colors, from red to orange to pink to white, sometimes with fragrance. Ascocentrums are mini vandaceous orchids that tolerate a range of light, leading to an easy growing plant. Some popular hybrids are 'Cherry Blossom', 'Peaches', 'Twinkle' and 'Petite Bouquet', which give any idea of their size and colors.

Darwinara hybrids combine ascocentrum, neofinetia, rhychostylis and vanda – quite a mix! They are similar to neostylis in size and flower and are usually blue to white: look for clonal names like 'Blue Star' and 'Charm'.

Nakamotoara is a multi-generic hybrid of vanda, neofinetia and ascocentrum, which gives a range of colors in plants just a bit larger than ascofinetias. 'Rainbow Gem' is one clonal name.

Neostylis 'Lou Sneary', probably the most famous mini-vandaceous orchid, is a primary hybrid of neofinetia falcata, a miniature from Japan with sprays of nicely scented white flowers (and very worth growing on its own), and rhynchostylis coelestis, a larger vandaceous grower, also with wonderfully scented flowers, usually purple and white.

Rumrillara is another multi-generic, this time of ascocentrum, neofinetia and rhynchostylis. I had a Rumrillara 'Sugar Baby'sitting in half of a coconut shell; it first flowered with two spikes and had a couple of new growths sprouting from the base. (It later perished of crown rot, but I'm definitely going to try this one again)

Ascovandoritis -- yes, you can cross an ascocenda with a doritis, and the result has excellent, ripe red color on a tall, erect spike. 'Thai Cherry' is one such cross. Expect more of this kind of cross in the future.Expect more of this kind of hybrid in the future, there's a lot of potential in mixing vanda alliance species with phalaenopsis alliance species.

Vandirea is an oddity even for this group: it crosses vanda amesiana (now technically a holcoglossum), with sedirea japonica, a miniature Asian species that looks like a small phalaenopsis. The result is supposed to be fabulous, jasmine-like fragrance with small size, frequent flowering and excellent cold tolerance. 'Newberry Jasmine' is the clonal name, if you can find it.

Vandofinetia pairs a vanda, usually one of the smaller-growing species like coerulescens, cristata or pumila, with neofinetia. 'Blaupunkt' is a beautiful, fragrant blue-white hybrid that flowers more than once a year.

Vascostylis, which crosses vanda with rhychostylis, hits the upper limits of the size boundary for mini-vandas, but the rich colors and reliable flowering can make it worth the space. Look for clonal names like 'Pine Rivers' and 'Five Friendships'.

OK, now that you’ve heard all about these little gems, how do you grow them? Well, they do need good light; these are not orchids to place in bright shade in an eastern window, unless you can supplement natural light with artificial light from fluorescents or other grow lights, or grow them under lights for 12-14 hours a day. Particularly during the winter they can take a fair amount of direct sunlight. In summer, shade them from midday sun, or grow them beneath or behind another plant to provide dappled sunlight.

During the warmer months, water them frequently and generously to drench their roots, which, though not as long and dangly as vandas, can get pretty rambunctious. Use a coarse, quick-draining mix such as coarse bark or tree fern and perlite – I’ve had pretty good luck with compressed coconut husk (“CHC”) . Fertilize “weekly, weakly” during the growing season, twice a month in winter. If you pot them in wooden baskets, they won’t need potting for a while, just let ‘em grow all over, then drop the whole plant, basket and all, into a larger basket. If growing in pots, watch for root rot, especially during winter, and always be careful not to let water sit in the crown, in between the top leaves, when the weather's cold, or crown rot becomes a very real hazard.

All that miniature vandaceous orchids need to become the new craze for indoor growers is a catchy name. Mini-vans is confusing, mini-vandaceous is too long, mini-monopodal (mini-mon?) is too technical, and mini-sarcanthinae (from the taxonomic subtribe name) is just right out. Vanditas? Vandelites? Whatever the name, these easy-growing, free blooming little orchids are worth checking out. And the next time you start coveting that gorgeous monster of a vanda, remember: it’s not size that matters. It’s flower power!

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