Guest Author - Susan Taylor
The Cattleya Alliance is one of the most well known in the Orchid family—this is the familiar “corsage orchid” that most of us grew up with. The plants are relatively are easy to grow although their needs are different from pot plants. Cattleyas come in a variety of colors including pink, red, green, yellow, lavender and white with many combinations of colors in the same flower. Here is a link to an overview of the genus in Jay Phal’s Internet Orchid Species Photo Encyclopedia Cattleya. Page down until you find Cattleya.
Cattleyas are extensively hybridized with similar orchids such as Brassavola, Laelia and Sophronitis. These hybrids represent a majority of the orchids raised in the western world in the last century. The genus has approximately 50 species mostly from tropical South America. All have cylindrical fleshy pseudobulbs and thick leaves. Most have large showy flowers. The genus is named after William Cattley, a 19th century orchid collector.
There are two important things to remember about growing Cattleyas--they need plenty of bright light to give you lots of bloom and they must not be over watered. The foliage should be light green, dark green leaves indicate not enough light. The plant will continue to grow, but will produce fewer flowers. Over watering is the most common cause of problems with orchids. Water once a week indoors and let the medium dry out between waterings. Humidity and good air circulation are also high on the Cattleya list of cultural requirements.
In general Cattleyas are happiest when grown in intermediate to warm temperatures with a minimum of 55-65° in winter, however some require higher or lower temperatures. This is generally only important for species Cattleyas; hybrids are usually much more forgiving as far as temperature. They enjoy summering outdoors as long are the plants have some shade during the hottest part of the day. Many growers in tropical areas easily keep these orchids outdoors year-round.
The natural habitat of Cattleyas is what is called epiphytic--growing in trees with the roots exposed to the elements. The plants should be potted in a coarse mix that provides plenty of air to the roots of the plant and allows for quick drainage. Repotting should be done every 18 to 24 months after a bloom cycle and just as the new roots begin to appear.
Cattleyas come in a variety of sizes (see What Size Cattleya Should I choose?). Some plants make good specimens for mounting on cork or tree fern plaques as long as you can maintain humidity and keep the roots plump and healthy. During the active growth season (March to October) feed once a week with a diluted orchid fertilizer. From November through February change to an every-other-week feeding.