The Classic Cattleyas


In 1818, William Cattley succeeded in flowering one of the first species of the genus that would bear his name. These first cattleyas are the classic cattleyas, whose form defined the essence of tropical orchids for generations to come. Indeed, the color of their flowers became known as "orchid." In this helpful and informative book, each classic Cattleya species is described in fascinating detail, and its role in breeding programs is elucidated. All that is required to appreciate and grow the large-flowered ...
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In 1818, William Cattley succeeded in flowering one of the first species of the genus that would bear his name. These first cattleyas are the classic cattleyas, whose form defined the essence of tropical orchids for generations to come. Indeed, the color of their flowers became known as "orchid." In this helpful and informative book, each classic Cattleya species is described in fascinating detail, and its role in breeding programs is elucidated. All that is required to appreciate and grow the large-flowered cattleyas successfully is included. Cultivation, humidity and watering, fertilizing, propagation, and diagnosing and treating problems are detailed, making this volume valuable for both veteran orchid enthusiasts and those who simply love these beautiful flowers.
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Editorial Reviews

Orchid Digest - Courtney T. Hackney
"While the title may seem like this book is only for cattleya growers, it really tells the story of the discovery of tropical orchids by western civilization. Every orchid hobbyist should have a copy even if they do not grow cattleyas."—Courtney T. Hackney, Orchid Digest, July/August 2006
Orchids - Ned Nash
"Another in the long line of fine horticulture books from this publisher. Everything about this book simply screams, 'Read me.' While the main focus of the book is on the species, Chadwick also discusses the early days of cattleya hybridizing, giving a wonderfully accurate picture of how we arrived at the dizzying breadth and range of colors now seen."—Ned Nash, Orchids, May 2006
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780881927641
  • Publisher: Timber Press, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/28/2006
  • Pages: 252
  • Sales rank: 875,321
  • Product dimensions: 7.63 (w) x 10.63 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

A. A. Chadwick has grown orchids, especially cattleyas, since 1943. He is a long-time contributor of feature articles on Cattleya cultivation, hybridizing, and history to Orchids, the journal of the American Orchid Society. He shares his passion for orchids with his son, Arthur, and the two have worked together to grow and hybridize many orchids.

Arthur E. Chadwick founded Chadwick & Son Orchids in 1989 in Powhatan, Virginia, which he owns and operates with his wife, Anne. The nursery has grown to include nearly a dozen greenhouses and two locations that house well over 10,000 plants. Arthur writes regularly on orchid culture for the Richmond Times-Dispatch and is a frequent speaker on orchids to plant societies and garden clubs.

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Read an Excerpt

One of the wonderful things about the Cattleya species is that there is always one in bloom every day of the year and you come to associate each with a particular season. So when the days begin to lengthen and the spring sun grows stronger, you know the greenhouse or sun porch will soon be filled with one of the brightest, largest, and loveliest rose-lavender cattleyas in nature's storehouse, C. mossiae. Springtime is mossiae time.

Since Cattleya mossiae blooms in abundance during March, April, and May, it is in bloom for Easter, Mother's Day, all the spring dances and graduations, and most of the spring flower shows. It is often called "The Easter Orchid," and it is no wonder that it was the darling of the commercial cut-flower industry in the 1940s and 1950s. It was still grown for cut flowers long after the other Cattleya species had given way to fancier hybrids.

Cattleya mossiae was not discovered until 1836, which was over 15 years after John Lindley established the genus Cattleya and described C. labiata as a new species. The first C. mossiae plant to reach Europe was sent to George Green of Liverpool, England, by a friend in Venezuela. Green gave the plant to a friend of his, a Mrs. Moss who owned a stove, or warm greenhouse, full of tropical plants in Otterpool. When the plant bloomed, Mrs. Moss was so thrilled with it that she sent the flowers and her own pencil sketch of the plant to William Jackson Hooker, a professor of botany at the University of Glasgow, Scotland. The flowers were a mammoth 8 1/2 inches across and had a beautiful rose-lavender color and a lovely fragrance that Hooker described as "powerful." Hooker was so impressed he decided to describe it as a new species, Cattleya mossiae, naming it after Mrs. Moss. He published the description in Curtis's Botanical Magazine of 1836 (pl. 3669). The colored lithograph that accompanied Hooker's description was done by Walter Fitch, one of the most outstanding botanical artists of the period.

Unlike Cattleya labiata, which was so scarce it was virtually unavailable in 1836, C. mossiae was plentiful and was soon imported in large numbers by Hornsey, Loddiges, and other British nurseries. Within a few years most orchid collections in Europe grew C. mossiae, and it became a favorite for exhibitions because of its great abundance of large flowers. Cattleya mossiae not only produced large individual flowers but also bore four or five flowers on a bloom spike and numerous growths with several spikes. A plant in a 10-inch pot could have more than 20 flowers and produce a magnificent display. Between 1865 and 1913, the Royal Horticultural Society gave 37 Awards of Merit and 16 First Class Certificates to various clones of C. mossiae. The number of named varieties of C. mossiae was almost endless, and more than 150 were recorded in the literature before the end of the 19th century.

Europe was not the only place that loved Cattleya mossiae, of course. It was so admired in its native Venezuela, where it was called the "Flor de Mayo," that it was eventually named that country's national flower. Since Venezuela is home to eight major Cattleya species, including the impressive large-flowered C. lueddemanniana, C. gaskelliana, and C. percivaliana, it speaks volumes for the peoples' love for C. mossiae.

For the hobbyist, Cattleya mossiae has all the qualities to make it a true treasure. It is one of the easiest Cattleya species to grow and the easiest to flower, and it adapts better to more adverse growing conditions than any other species in the genus. For this reason, it is often recommended as a beginner's orchid. Yet, its enduring qualities keep it high on the list of favorites of longtime orchid growers. When a friend of ours gave up his large cattleya collection because he could no longer take care of his greenhouses, the only plants he kept to grow in his home solarium were his four plants of C. mossiae, because, as he put it, "They are as much a part of spring as the daffodils and you can always count on them."

Cattleya mossiae was one of the most abundant of the large-flowered Cattleya species in its natural habitat in the 1800s, and literally hundreds of thousands of plants were imported into Europe and the United States during the last two centuries. It is still one of the most common species found in the wild today. Enough alba varieties of C. mossiae were found that the British orchid company Sander could tell its collectors to include a case or two of alba plants with every shipment, which is remarkable when you realize that only one or two alba plants were found with most other large-flowered Cattleya species over 100 years of collecting.

The first alba form of Cattleya mossiae to reach Europe was actually described as a new species, C. wagneri, by botanist Heinrich Gustav Reichenbach (Xenia Orchidacea 1:28, pl. 13). When C. wagneri was finally recognized as a variety of C. mossiae, Sander continued the name "wagneri" by using it as a clonal name on an alba that received a First Class Certificate from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1885. The clonal name ('Wagneri') soon became so associated with the alba form that it was virtually a generic description for it. As a result, we see alba varieties of C. mossiae today with labels that read only "C. mossiae Wagneri." Sometimes Wagneri is followed by a clonal name but not always. The word "alba" does not appear anywhere in the name.

A similar thing happened to the semialba variety of Cattleya mossiae. The Royal Horticultural Society gave a First Class Certificate to a plant in 1871 that had white sepals and petals and a lip with rosy crimson veins that was exhibited by Torrdesborough. The Gardeners' Chronicle published two articles about the plant in 1883 and 1884 when its reporter visited the estate of Sir N. de Rothschild who also grew the plant. Sander even put a painting of it in its book Reichenbachia (plate 52). Once again, the variety became so well known that the term "reineckiana" was soon synonymous with a semialba C. mossiae. One of the most famous breeding semialba forms of C. mossiae of all time, C. mossiae reineckiana 'Young's Variety', still carries this descriptive name.

Most famous, old cultivars of Cattleya mossiae have the classic mossiae shape where the broad petals tend to fall forward. This unique shape distinguishes C. mossiae from most of the other large-flowered Cattleya species. Since many C. mossiae have petals that are very wide, this fall-forward shape is still very attractive. The only First Class Certificate awarded to C. mossiae by the American Orchid Society for over 50 years went to 'Mrs. J. T. Butterworth', which had this fall-forward petal shape. Cattleya mossiae is apparently so proud of its shape that it passes it on to its hybrids, and the shape is really rather nice, even though it does not fit the arbitrary international standards for Cattleya judging.

The lavender forms of Cattleya mossiae present a wide range of color in the petals frompale rose to dark purple. Most of them have the typical lip pattern where the purple has a splashed appearance, but a few varieties lack this pattern. One of the most famous lavender-breeding cultivars is 'R. E. Patterson' (not to be confused with 'Ed Patterson', which is a different variety). Cattleya mossiae 'R. E. Patterson' has normal-size flowers with petals that are upright instead of falling forward. Its shape is the main reason it was so widely used in breeding, but it also had a unique lip pattern where the dense lavender splashing went all the way to the edge of the lip. There have also been several lavender C. mossiae that were tetraploids like Patterson's famous 'Orchidhaven' and John Mossman's 'Julie'.

Without Cattleya mossiae, spring hybrids would be few and far between. Virtually all of our good spring Cattleya hybrids today have this species in their background. The most famous of these hybrids is the semialba form of Laeliocattleya Canhamiana, which is a primary hybrid with semialba Laelia purpurata (syn. Cattleya purpurata). This hybrid so dominated the June cut-flower market at one time that it was known as the "Bridal Orchid." Thomas Young Orchids in Boundbrook, New Jersey, grew more than 10,000 semialba Lc. Canhamiana plants in 8-inch and 10-inch pots (150,000 flowers) for this June market but could not begin to meet the demand for the flowers. It is difficult to praise C. mossiae too much because it is a truly wonderful plant. The word "magnificent" has been used by many authors to describe it, and in this respect William Hooker in his original description of the species said it best when he wrote that C. mossiae is simply "the most magnificent of all orchidaceous plants."

Because it flowers in the spring, Cattleya mossiae does not begin growing until early summer, after species such as C. labiata have completed their growths. Cattleya mossiae usually completes its growth in the United States by late September and then rests for about six months before it flowers. It will typically send out a flush of roots from the new growth as soon as the growth is mature. If repotted at this time, it will still produce a strong flower spike in the spring. Like other cattleyas, C. mossiae should only be repotted when it begins sending out these new roots.

Cattleya mossiae likes lots of water while actively growing in the summer, and then should be watered sparingly during the cold winter months when it is dormant. It grows best if you allow it to dry out thoroughly before watering it again. When you do water, give it a thorough watering that wets all the roots in the container. Cattleya mossiae requires plenty of sun and air and will give more flowers the more sun it receives. It is receiving too much sun, however, if the leaves feel warm to the touch or become yellow-green. Cattleya mossiae requires a normal Cattleya temperature of 58° to 60°F at night and up to 85°F during the day.

Fertilizer is not needed to produce good growths or flowers but can benefit plants grown in bark mixes. We recommend 1/4 teaspoonful of a soluble 20–20–20 fertilizer per gallon of water be given weekly during active growth in July and August. Use a cup of this solution per plant per watering. Never use slow-release fertilizers since these can release nitrogen when the plant is dormant, and this could cause injury to the plant.

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Table of Contents

1 Royal flower of imperial Europe 9
2 Five-star American lady 25
3 A touch of botany 42
4 The large-flowered species 53
5 The orphanage - the Brazilian laelia/cattleyas 141
6 Fiddling with nature - the cattleya hybrids 161
7 Cattleyas in art 190
8 Growing your own cattleyas 203
9 Repotting and dividing cattleyas 218
10 Pests, diseases, and environmental problems 223
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