Sunday, March 05, 2006

How to Flower Cattleya

How to Flower Cattleya

Written by [Philippine Orchid Review] Felix De Leon Flores
Sunday, 01 August 2004
In our 17 years of growing Cattleya, we often hear people complaining that hey cannot flower their Cattleya. That is why so many shy away from Cattleyas. But Cattleya is the easiest orchid to grow once you know how.
Upon investigation, it came out that the real culprit is the lack of proper light conditions. Some grow the Cattleyas in the porches of their houses. Others put them under the trees. Still others with greenhouses put too much shade. And mostly invariably they have 403 hours filtered light. Under these conditions, the Cattleya has lush green color, plenty of succulent and soft pseudobulbs and leaves but not flower. Naturally, this Cattleya will not flower although it looks very healthy.
A mature Cattleya to flower must have hard and firm growth with yellow green, hard and leathery leaves. And this can only be attained if you give your Cattleyas as much sunlight as possible, short of burning. Of course, you must also be using a well-balanced fertilizer for tropical conditions and a root hormone as a supplement.
Before citing orchid authorities to support the above statements, it might help us understand our Cattleya better if we know that Cattleya flowers only once a year in one lead. If your Cattleya has 5 leads (directions of pseudobulbs), then you will have 5 sets of flowers blooming at the same time or one after the other. It takes 8 to 9 months from the time bud begins to grow up to the time the flower opens. Also it takes 3 to 4 months from bud initiation to flower production. So how can a Cattleya flower twice a year, since there are only 12 months to a year? Of course, there are exceptions but these are very few. With the use of FFP hormone, we were able to flower a purple Cattleya twice in one lead in 13-14 months. So if you understand that your Cattleya will flower only once in one year per lead, you will not be so anxious and weary about your Cattleya culture. Most anxiety emanates from expecting too much.
Cattleyas have their own definite flowering seasons. Some are winter blooming, some autumn, others spring or summer. The result of crossbreeding also produces Cattleya that blooms in all seasons. The yellows and the reds are the hardest to flower. They need more light than the whites and purples. In fact, some concolor yellows will not flower, unless you withhold water to the point of shriveling. The reds need a cooler place but still needs an abundance of light.
Many factors affecting flowering of Cattleyas, namely, temperature, length of day, humidity, nutrients, and hormones. It is not only difficult to control temperature and day length but also very expensive. Let us control these factors with in our means, such as light, fertilizers, humidity, and hormones. Let us discuss the role of light in the flowering of Cattleya. The rest, while they are also important, are not so critical as light.
On pages 21 and 22 of the American Orchid Society “Handbook of Orchid Culture,” it is pointed out that “6 … Cattleya needs a good amount of light to grow and flower. A range of 2,000 foot-candles to 3,000 foot-candles is satisfactory even though Cattleya properly hardened can take up to 8,000 foot-candles and more.”
On page 59, Alex D. Hawkins (1961), in his book, Orchids: Their Botany and Culture, says … “in nature, orchids are found exposed to full sunlight … a few of these plants (meaning orchids) were found inexcessively shaded stagnant interiors of the jungles where light and free-movement of air is a premium,”
On page 69 of his book American Orchid Culture (1942), Edward A. White in discussing Cattleya culture says: “In their native habitat many species are found exposed to full sunlight. Light in adequate intensities is necessary not only in the production of good but to give firmness to the plant tissues so there are no soft succulent growths. Firmness of tissue seems to have direct relation to flower production, for when the growth is soft, fewer and smaller flowers are produced than when the plants are firm in texture. Color seems to be a good indication of light requirements. If the leaves are gray, green or dark green, it is an indication that he plants are receiving too little light, while shriveling of the tissues and clear, yellow color indicate too much light.”
On page 339, Carl L. Whitner (1953), in his book The Orchids: A Scientific Study, states and I quote “more and more it is realized that for good growth and flower production, and adequate abundance of light is necessary but also most invariably the plants with most light produce far more flowers and better growth. The nature plant (meaning orchids newly gathered from the jungles) have short, plumb, hard and leathery leaves and a distinctly yellow green color./ This is in contrast to the more succulent, dark green, narrow-leaved or tall plants that exemplify “soft” growing conditions and poor flower production. Herb Hagers’ (1954) ability to flower Cattleya two to a half years (normally it is 5-6 years) from flask is also the result of high light intensities (up to 4,000 food-candles which is about 80% of our full light of 5,000 foot-candles, 16 hours a day and a continued high levels of nutrients, humidity and water. Light is more often than not the limiting factor in growth and development. It is seldom that nutrients, water, carbon dioxide supply and temperature and other factors, though important, are in as critical a role.”
We quote from page 22, vol. 23, No. 2 Handbook on Orchids, published by the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens (1974): Failure to bloom healthy looking orchid plant is most often the result of too little light.
Page 81 on “How to Grow Cattleya” in the book published by the Oregon Orchid Society, Inc, Your First Orchids and How to Grow Them, says, and I quote: “To produce better growth and flowers a yellowish green shade is desirable. Too much shade produces dark green, soft growth which do not produce the best flowers. Medium light will result in lush green coloration and good flowers. A maximum of light yellows the leaves and produces the best flowering of the plants.”
I quote from Page 8of Orchid, a Country Side Book Publication (1979): “A Cattleya with lush, green leaves, and soft succulent growth is not receiving enough sunlight. A well grown plant receiving optimum light has leaves of yellow cast and a hard leathery texture. A heavy concentration of red or purple pigments (anthocyanin) in the pseudobulbs and leaves including as well as slight anthocyanin speckling in the flower sheath indicated good light cultures.”
All these authorities are agreed that maximum light short of burning is prerequisite for maximum flowering. At Antipolo, this will be 80% of full sunlight of 5,000 food-candles or 4,000 foot-candles in 8 hours or a total of 32,000 foot-candles-hours. The Cattleya has hard firm growth and hard and leathery leaves of yellow green color. Medium light (obtained in Antipolo by 50% lath house or 60% using 2 fish nets) giving 2,000 foot-candles to 3,000 foot-candles in 8 hours produces lush green leaves and good flowers. But Cattleya with dark green, soft succulent leaves will not flower.
The American Orchid Society Bulletin No. 10. Oct. 1977, on page 897, suggested that Cattleya needs a maximum of 25,000 foot-candles (16 hours usage per day). In our 17 years of growing Cattleya, medium light conditions of 2,000 foot-candles in 8 hours obtained by 40% through the use of lath produce lush green leaves and good flowers. At 50-60% of sunlight of 5,000 food-candles or 2,500 foot-candles to 3,000 foot-candles in 8 hours better growth and flowers are obtained. At a maximum light of 75% to 80% of 5,000 foot-candles or 3,850 foot-candles to 4,000 foot-candles in 8 hours produced hard firm growth with yellow green leaves and maximum flowering with a root hormone. The root system is tremendous. Also since the Cattleya are properly hardened they are not only resistant to top and root rot but also to fungus attack.


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