Guest Author - Haidy Ear-Dupuy
In the beginning:
Found in the bog environment of South America (Columbia, Ecuador and Peru), the Phragmipedium besseae was one of the latest orchids to be discovered. In 1981, plant taxonomists identified and recorded the existence of the Phragmipedium besseae. This little red flower that often resembles the lady slipper, with its pouch, became popular with orchids enthusiasts. Cultivators use it to hybridize and produce many other orchids with similar characteristics. Some have long petals that resembled a Frenchmanís mustache with a large pouty lips, others have short petals with larger pouches, looking more like the lady slipper. Descendants of the Phragmipedium besseae come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Because of their popularity with collectors, the plant is now on the endangered species list from over collecting.
Condition in the wild:
To succeed in growing this orchid, we often have to give it similar condition to what the plant experiences in the wild. Because the plant often grows on spongy wet soil that often drains fast, it is important to pot it in similar textured medium. The root system likes to receive fresh water running through it. So, if you collect rain water, make sure to keep them for your Phragmipedium besseae. Keeping the medium moist but make sure not to have mold growing on the medium is a challenge. Water well and do not let the drained water to sit in the collecting tray for too long. If you are using large, chunky barks to pot this plant, you should also add in materials that can absorb and hold water as well.
Another important element in growing this orchid is the temperature and light. Having the right temperature and light for day and night help to simulate the natural environment and can make it easier for your plant to reward you with flowers. During the day, it is best to keep temperature close to 70 degrees. It can tolerate temperature up to 80 degrees but high temperature can damage the plant or it may not flower. Evening temperature should be in the 60 degrees range. In the wild, this orchid can face temperature as low as 50 degrees.
Phragmipedium besseae has similar light requirement as its fellow South American orchid, the Cattleya. Keep them in filtered sunlight, replicating the under growth of the trees. Ensuring that there are air circulating around the plant will help it to avoid getting diseases and infection from common insects and fungus.
When to repot your orchid:
Unlike other species of orchids, the Phragmipedium besseae requires repotting more often. The frequent watering breaks down the medium faster and you may required to repot every year to give your plant new medium that could retain and drain water similar to the spongy banks of the rivers where this plant originated in South America.