Articles About Orchids
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Articles About Orchids
Tolumnia hybrid 'Colorburst'
I am going to start telling you about some of the other fun orchids you can grow rather than the same old things you always see in every store. Yes, there really are a lot of different orchids other than Phalaenopsis, Dendrobiums, Oncidiums, Cymbidiums, and Cattleyas.

For example, if you are cramped for space but want blooming orchids, I have just the one for you! you might want to try an Equitant.

Their leaves look like triangles rather than flat like most leaves and form a fan-shaped arrangement. This shape was adapted by the plant to survive in the drier environments found on their native islands. The leaves hold water which is used by the orchid as a water reserve during short dry periods.
   The flowers look like little ladies with the big full skirts just like the Oncidiums, these little jewels were, of course, included in the genus Oncidiums for many years.
   The species has recently been moved to their own genus called Tolumnia because it has much smaller blossoms than the other Oncidiums and for other reasons.
   Of course, like everything with orchids, just moving the orchid from one genus to another may not be that simple. The RHS (Royal Horticultural Society)

currently does not accept the name Tolumnia so they continue to list them under Oncidiums - despite the differences.
   Interestingly, all hybrids are still labeled as Oncidiums rather than Tolumnia. Will the new genus be eventually accepted? Who knows? No matter what you call them, however, these little dolls are a delight to own.To keep the confusion to a low level, in this article I will refer to our little ladies as Equitants.

   These miniature orchids originally make their homes in the Caribbean Islands. They are warm growers and love high humidity. The local climate of the particular island where they live determines the amount of water they need. For example, Tolumnia guianense is from the very dry area of Hispaniola while other species are found in the Bahamas where it rains almost every day.

   In the early 1950's W.W. Goodale Moir began crossing the species he collected in the West Indies. His little orchids were often referred to as "Moir's Weeds."
For over 25 years he bred his little orchids making many exotic crosses. Finally in 1970 other breeders joined him and the large scale hybridization of these little ladies began.

   There is much more in this story that what meets the eye of the amateur hobbyist orchid enthuiast. While there are orchid genera which can be hybridized without difficulty, there are many Oncidium species which are genetically isolated even from their virtually close relatives belonging in the same genus, let alone other genera. Moir's research work was fundamental with respect of discovering the rules of genetic compatibilities and incompatibilities of these orchids - then applying them in hybridizing work involving other Oncidium species.

   The large scale, industrializede mass production aimed at creating then banking on a new market: orchid enthusiasts having limited space, often nothing else but a Wardian case in their living room. Indeed, in a few cubic yards cubature a pretty rich collection of these small orchids can be cultivated!

   Equitants are very robust growers and will bloom in showers of bright colorful blossoms ranging from bright sunshine yellows and golden browns, to vibrant reds and oranges.

   The little "skirts" are decorated with many patterns of stripes or polka dots. In a breeze, the blossoms look like a group of swinging square dancers all in a row along the inflorescence. One of my favorites is the hybrid Oncidium Dancer X O. Golden Lur.

   The cultural requirements for Equitants are really quite simple. They are typical twig epiphytes, that is, in their natural environments they tend to grow on thin, not infrequently died, dry twigs exposed to all the vagaries of the local climate: wind, rain, drought, scorching sun alternating in certain habitats with near-zero temperatures at nights.

   You can mount your little Equitants using fishing line or other material to secure them to the mount.
Use Sphagnum moss or cocoa fiber as padding around the roots.
   Cork slab and tree fern plaques work well or even moss plant poles are good supports - especially if you are cramped for room. A moss plant pole will let you mount many of these little orchids in very little space and makes for a very nice display especially when several plants are in bloom.

   They will also do well in tiny 1" to 2" pots filled with loose charcoal, small orchid bark, small coconut chips, or any other fine material - but never ever try to force all of their roots inside the pots! If any epiphytic orchid at all then twig epiphytes are orchids which in fact thoroughly hate potting.

Never overpot your little orchids (overpotting is using a pot much larger than necessary to hold the orchid). Use a medium that will dry quickly and not hold moisture to allow the roots to dry between watering.

   The two main requirements are giving them water when they need it and providing consistent air movement.

   This is the most important step in growing Equitants.
They need to have water available when needed by the plant. Even though the leaves will absorb some water for the plant to sustain it for short dry periods, they have no large pseudobulb water reserve.

   Equitants must be watered well then allowed to dry out. The leaves and roots must not be wet by night. If kept wet, the roots will soon rot away killing the plant.

   They enjoy rain water if you are able to supply it. A daily misting is also something that many of them are accustomed to. Let the plant dry before watering again.

If they do not receive enough water, the leaves will turn brown and the little orchids will soon die.

   Mounted plants need to be watered every day or every other day. Potted orchids depend on the type of media used to determine the frequency of watering.

Watch your orchid. They will tell you if they are happy. Are the leaves full and firm or are they wrinkled and shriveled?

   This is very important for the health of your Equitants.
A breeze moves the humid air around the plant where the roots can extract the moisture between waterings. Provide plenty of air movement around your plants. A small fan is a welcome addition to your growing area, not only for the little Equitants but for most orchids.

   These little orchids can be grown in a windowsill, under lights, or in a greenhouse.

   In areas where the weather permits they can, of course, be grown outside as well. Bright diffused light is needed. The morning sun is wonderful but protect your little jewels from the hot afternoon sun. If you are growing under fluorescent lights, you should also use an incandescent light to create the needed light spectrum to insure blooming.

If the leaves start to turn red (a sign of burning), decrease the amount of light they are receiving by increasing the distance between the plant and the lights, or provide shade from the hot sun.

   After watering and while they are still wet, you can water again using a good balanced liquid fertilizer at 1/2 the recommended strength. Never fertilize a dry plant. Fertilizing twice a month will benefit the growth of your orchid. When new growth matures you can change to a bloom boosting formula 10-30-20 to enhance the flowering.

   The temperature range is from the high 60's ºF during the night and the high 80's ºF during the day. Avoid prolong exposure to temperatures below 60 ºF or above 90 ºF.

   On the other hand, definite difference between day and night temperatures is essential. During the daylight phase most of their stomata, the microscopic structures controlling the inhalation and exhalation of metabolic gases are closed. They "eat" at night and that process requires a definite temperature drop of at least 4 - 6 ºF degrees in comparison to the temperatures prevailing during the light phase of the diurnal cycle.

   Inflorescence are produced on new or older mature growth. They produce a shower of blooms 2 -3 times a year. After blooming, do not remove the inflorescent until it is brown and dead. Often the old inflorescence will branch and bloom again for you.

Try some of these little orchids and I am sure after you try one you will purchase another, then another, as you know Orchids are Addictive!