Cattleya orchids have always been my favorite flowers. Like, if I had to choose one type of flower that is my all-time favorite, it would probably be the cattleya orchid. If I had to give up gardening but could only grow one thing, it would probably be the cattleya orchid. It's not necessarily the frilly over-the-top girly ones like the Blc. Ray Holmes that I had bloom last year (photo above), but also the simpler ones, like my Lc. Mini Purple (below).
So it comes as a disappointment for me to realize, after returning from the Pacific Orchid Expo, that cattleya orchids have a very low pleasure-to-misery ratio. In my house, they are unhappy, and show their displease by not blooming, or sulking, even though they rarely croak. It's not that I'm not patient. I had this Blc. Jeweler's Art 'Carved Coral', for NINE years before it bloomed, then it bloomed twice a year, before Landscape Architecture school neglect caused the roots to rot.
I only had Blc. Little Mermaid 'Janet' for a year or so, before I gave it away. It just got too big. But I still miss it. One day I was home, and I heard a crash. Janet's leaves had grown so much that it pushed itself right off the windowsill.
Iwanagara Appleblossom 'Mendenhall' has also gotten just too big for my space, the flower stems on this variety get a foot tall, with the sweetly scented flowers perched on top.
Cattleya orchids are sympodial orchids, which means that the leaves grow up from a creeping rhizome like an iris. This creeping rhizome can be more of a running rhizome, such as bamboo, which makes it hard to contain in a pot. The plants continue to grow as if they were along the branch of a tree, which is how they grow naturally, right out of the pot. In the home, they need a pot to hold the growing medium and moisture, and a pot that is not too big or the roots will rot, but too small, and in a season they will be growing mostly outside of the pot. Without the nutrients and moisture from the medium, plants growing mostly outside of the pot don't bloom.
Such is the case with my Lc. Starting Point 'Newberry' x C. walkeriana v. semi-alba, a seedling with a nice pedigree, but which wants to grow in a straight line (not reasonable in a pot). Cutting off the old growth, and repotting just the new growth means no flowers for a lot of the cattleyas, which resent this treatment.
Such was also the case with my C. walkeriana 'Pendentive', which was given away, despite the beautiful flowers and delicious strong and fruity fragrance. It also required very bright light sunlight (a bit of shadecloth from the NM sun), relatively dry at the roots and moist in the air. Not an easy feat in New Mexico. The bright light they need also generates heat, and you also have to keep the air moving to keep heat from building up and burning the leaves.
Funny, but I don't even remember the name of this one, or what happened to it, which I regret every time I see this picture
Brassavola Little Stars (B. nodosa x B. cucullata), is in the top five of my most favorite orchids ever, for its simple form, pure color, and incredible night time fragrance, which admittedly is an acquired taste. It grew well enough for me in the old house, but not so well in my current house. Still, I may keep trying with this one, before I give up entirely. But mostly I think I'm going to try to focus on the miniatures, particularly the monopodial orchids (orchids that grow one or a few stems, and keep growing longer, rather than creeping along a rhizome). Or at least the tight clumpy ones. So then goodbye to the cattleyas.