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Cattleya Iricolor

Cattleya iricolor Rchb. f. 1874 Subgen Stellata Withner 1988 Photo courtesy of Jay Pfahl

Common Name: Rainbow-Colored Cattleya Orchid

Native habitat:Ecuador and Peru. Grows high up in trees where it is exposed to bright light and breezes.
Plant Size:Medium. Unifoliate. Has 8 or 9 inch tall compressed pseudobulbs with a single 12 inch (30 cm), dark green leaf. New growth begins in the fall (in the northern hemisphere) and the growth matures during the winter. Flowering occurs as the growth matures.
Flower Size:3 inch (16 cm).
Flower Description:Powerfully Fragrant. Probably the most fragrant Cattleya orchid there is! A mature plant will generally produce around 6 flowers per growth. The flowers are somewhat spider-like in appearance and have a small, tubular lip. The flower color ranges from straw yellow to cream and the lip is marked with red and yellow. Cattleya iricolor has narrow petals and sepals. The flowers last for less than three weeks.
Bloom Season:February or March.
Temperature:Intermediate to Warm. In its native environment, summer days average 82-84 F (28-29 C), and nights average 71-72 F (22 C), with a diurnal range of 11-12 F (6-7 C). Winter days in its habitat average 77-79 F (25-26 C), and nights average 64-65 F (17-19 C), with a diurnal range of 9-11 F (5-6 C).
Humidity:Provide 80-85 percent humidity for most of the year. Its acceptable for summer humidity to drop into the 75-80 percent range.
Light:Bright or Full light.
Water:PH 6,5 - 7,5. Should drying out between waterings. Should be watered regularly throughout the year, but they must dry rapidly after watering. Make sure that the plants never stay dry for long periods of time, however. Give mounted plants a daily misting in summer with a thorough soaking of the entire plant and slab twice a week in summer, or three times a week in extremely hot weather (adjust for your climate). Water should be reduced somewhat in winter, but plants should never stay dry for long periods.
Rest:Late fall, witer until spring. Winter days in its habitat average 77-79 F (25-26 C), and nights average 64-65 F (17-19 C), with a diurnal range of 9-11 F (5-6 C). Should be waterings more ofen, then regular cattleya in rest.
FertilizerA balanced semy-hidro fertilizer, should be applied each wattering during periods of active growth. Here is the article about our view to Orchids diet.
Many growers use a fertilizer with lower nitrogen and higher phosphate in autumn. In our fertilizer recipe you may ease rich this goal by increase quantity of FloraBloom from Flora Series. To recalculate new fertilizer solution, use our Calculator PPM for hydroponic fertilizer solutions. This improves blooming the next season and encourages new growths to harden before winter. Pots should be leached every few weeks to prevent salt buildup, especially when fertilizer is being applied most heavily. Plants should first be watered normally to dissolve any accumulated salts. An hour or so later, the medium is flushed with water equal to about twice the volume of the pot. Year-round leaching is important in areas with heavily mineralized water.
Grow On:Slabs, rafts, or baskets. Perfect for hydroponic grow.
Substrates:Frequently grown mounted on cork slabs or in baskets, but some growers report success using pots with extremely open fast draining medium such as coarse bark nuggets. Whatever the choice of medium, it is critically important that the roots dry rapidly after watering or root rot is a near certainty. Use very small slabs for mounting this species because larger slabs retain to much water. Tree-fern slabs hold more water and should only be used only in very dry growing conditions. When mounting, do not use sphagnum moss between the mount and the plant because it retains too much moisture and promotes rot. Divide, repot, or remount only when new root growth is just starting. This lets the plant become established in the shortest possible time with the greatest success.
Additional Information:The plant needs good air circulation. Easy to grow and a reliable bloomer. Only one specimen of Cattleya iricolor ever made it to Europe during the nineteenth century. The plant grew, flowered, and prospered but nobody knew where it came from. It was not until 1962 that the species was rediscovered in the wild by a missionary.

Put in the basket Cattleya Iricolor

The Neighborhood's Cattleya

Orchids, The American Orchid Society Magazine

June, 2004

   Cattleyas are famous for their wonderful fragrances, which are one of their delightful trademarks. When you ask someone which of the Cattleya species has the strongest fragrance, most people will tell you Cattleyadowiana, which has such an intense and distinctive fragrance that you can even identify its hybrids by the similarity of their scent. Twenty years ago, I would have selected C. dowiana myself for the prize for odor but, when I acquired some plants of Cattleyairicolor a few years ago, all that changed. The grand prize for the strongest fragrance in the realm of the cattleyas goes indisputably to C. iricolor.

   As just a green plant, C. iricolor looks like any other cattleya you might see on a bench in someone’s green-house. It has an 8- to 9-inch- (20- to 23-cm-) tall Cattleya-like pseudobulb with about a 12-inch- (30-cm-) long single leaf at the top. The leaf is somewhat longer in proportion to the size of the pseudobulb than other Cattleya species, but except for this slight difference, it looks just like a normal everyday cattleya. You could easily pass it by unnoticed on your walk through the greenhouse. When the plant flowers, however, a whole new world emerges. Six or so spidery 3-inch (7.5-cm) flowers will fill your greenhouse with an intense fragrance that may even perfume your house as well if it is attached to the greenhouse — as mine is. The odor is so strong it may find its way to your neighbor’s front door. Once in flower, it is impossible to ignore C. iricolor.

   The flowers of C. iricolor are, without doubt, unusual looking for a cattleya. They are strange enough that you might think they belong in another genus. The flowers have a lip that comes to a sharp point like Cattleyaaurantiaca, and some botanists may give it a new name one of these days, as they have with C. aurantiaca, once they examine its genetic makeup. At the least, we can consider C.iricolor unique among the Cattleya species. The flowers of C.iricolor, unlike the large-flowered cattleyas, are all very much alike. The color of the sepals and petals varies only slightly from a pale straw yellow to a creamy white. The lip has a bright yellow throat with purple on the inside of the lobes and purple lines or bars in front of the throat. The V-shaped end of the lip is an off-white color, and the column is relatively short in length and colored purple on the underside. The petals are as narrow as the sepals, which is an uncommon trait in cattleyas. There are supposed to be alba forms of C. iricolor, but the ones I have seen are a creamy white and require a strong imagination to fit the descriptive term “alba.” The flowers last in bloom only about two and a half weeks, which may account for the strong fragrance, as it has to attract its pollinators as soon as possible before the flower dies. Cattleyairicolor sends out a new growth in the late autumn in the United States and produces a new pseudobulb during the winter months. As the pseudobulb matures, the flower spike emerges from the sheath and the flowers open in late February or March. Cattleyairicolor is an easy plant to grow and seems to adjust well to normal Cattleya greenhouse temperatures of 58 to 60 F (14 to 16 C) at night and 85 F (29 C) during the day. It needs lots of sun, moving air and normal greenhouse humidity and grows well in clay pots with a variety of standard cattleya mixes. I have found it to be a free-flowering plant that never fails to produce at least six flowers on a spike. If grown really well, C.iricolor can produce up to 10 flowers on a spike. Cattleyairicolor grows naturally in Ecuador and Peru where it is found at relatively high elevations around 3,000 to 4,000 feet (915 to 1,220 m) near the tops of tall trees.

   Historically, C. iricolor has been an elusive plant. It was described as a new species in 1874 by the botanist H.G. Reichenbach from a spike of flowers sent to him by Harry Veitch. It was so rare in cultivation after Reichenbach described it that James Veitch in his book, AManualofOrchidaceousPlants in 1887 went so far as to say, “The only plant ever introduced of this very distinct Cattleya was acquired by us many years ago at one of the orchid sales at Steven’s Rooms, where it was sold without a specific name, and without any intimation of its origin.” As Veitch’s one plant was divided and sold, new divisions turned up in well-known collections like that of Baron von Schroeder, where the botanist J.D. Hooker studied it and included a description of it in BotanicalMagazine in 1893 (tab. 7287). A picture of Veitch’s plant was also painted by John Day in 1884. Veitch’s single plant of C. iricolor was recycled continuously throughout the rest of the 1800s and well into the 1900s and was the only plant anyone had seen of this interesting small Cattleya for almost 90 years. Cattleyairicolor remained the rarest plant in captivity until 1962 when it was rediscovered by a missionary, Padre Angel M. Andreetta, in the Upano valley of Ecuador. After that, a few plants managed to find their way into cultivation outside of Ecuador and Peru, and they are now found in some collections in the United States. The plant is still considered rare and is usually noticed by everyone whenever it appears in an orchid show. Even Hooker had to comment on its fragrance in BotanicalMagazine when he noted rather colorfully that “the plant exhaled at the time a very strong fragrance.”

   Cattleyairicolor’s small size and spidery-shaped flowers did not make it very attractive for breeding and only one hybrid was recorded before it was rediscovered in 1962. That single hybrid was made by Veitch in 1892 with Cattleyamossiae and was called Cattleya Philo. The cross is unknown in cultivation today, but it is so intriguing to see what nature could come up with using such diverse flowers as C. iricolor and C.mossiae, that I remade the cross this spring when the two parents were in flower and hopefully in seven years we will all know the answer.

   It seems amazing that a plant with such a powerful fragrance could go undetected in the jungle for the better part of a century during the heyday in the discovery of the Cattleya species. A few hundred plants of this species in flower in the jungle could give a distinct aroma to a whole mountain valley in South America. Perhaps the plant hunters spent too much time using their eyes instead of their noses to find plants or perhaps they just visited C. iricolor areas during the growing season. One thing is certain today, however, and that is if you have a Cattleyairicolor, it will tell you loud and clear when it is in bloom and you will not even have to tell your neighbors. They will have already noted its presence.

   A.A. Chadwick has been growing cattleyas since 1943. Having been trained as a horticulturist and a botanist, he both grows and crosses cattleyas, and also remakes old hybrids. His series of articles on cattleyas is now available on the World Wide Web at www.chad wickorchids.com. 520 Meadowlark Lane, Hockessin, Delaware 19707.

   A.A. Chadwick.