Paphiopedilums are one the most popular of all the orchids grown in this country, and around the world. There are books devoted to just these plants, and there are even specialised clubs and magazines. Quite widely available from specialist orchid nurseries, they can also often be found in garden centers and similar outlets. They produce attractive and distinctive flowers, many of which are long lasting. Amongst the uninitiated orchids are commonly thought to be delicate plants requiring expensive growing facilities. Paphiopedilums include amongst their numbers those which are strong robust plants capable of surviving quite difficult conditions, although, of course, their growth and flowering will be much better and more assured when their relatively simple basic requirements are provided. There are, however, some paphiopedilums which are more delicate and which require additional care, but there are plants attractive to all covering a wide spectrum of growing skills and conditions. Most paphiopedilums require a glasshouse or protected growing area, although the facilities provided do not necessarily have to be expensive or extensive. There are some species and hybrids that can even be grown successfully with cymbidiums. They can also be grown in the home, in the bathroom, lounge or kitchen, on the refrigerator or TV or other suitable shelf, provided additional humidity is supplied through the use of a gravel tray or similar.
Paphiopedilums will be grown in all parts of the country although in the colder environments, additional warmth and protection will be required, especially for the warmer growing varieties. In a general guide such as this growing information relevant to all areas cannot be discussed. What will be attempted is to detail the general growing criteria, and the reasons for the various recommendations. This should enable any individual to ascertain the general growing and seasonal requirements. It is, however, recommended that anyone new to growing orchids, or someone moving to a new area, contact a local grower to ascertain specific growing advice. In particular the members of orchid societies will be happy to assist with local information. Joining a society is the ideal way to make new friends and to obtain the most assistance, but speaking to growers at society orchid shows held throughout the country, or even just obtaining the name of a grower who may be able to assist over the phone may be all that you require. Orchid growers are renowned for their enthusiasm for speaking about their favorite plants, so never be afraid to seek advice or assistance.
Most of the paphiopedilums grown have been developed from plants native of the Asian lowlands, although some grow naturally at higher altitudes in the Himalayas. The various species come from a considerable range of habitats, from the high mountains to sea level. Thus there is a range of both cool and warm growing plants to select from. Fortunately, by just looking at most of the plants you can gain an indication of their temperature requirements, although there are always exceptions, and for some of the advanced hybrids the distinctions are not so clear.
While there are some that are epiphytes, i.e. they grow on the branches of trees, although unlike parasites, do not obtain nourishment direct form the host tree, most grow on the ground as terrestrials, in a thick mat of humus, moss and leaf detritus. There are a few that are lithophytes, plants which grow on rocks. Most of their habitats are naturally subject to quite high levels of humidity all year. Of importance to their culture is that their roots are exposed to the atmosphere; they require plenty of moisture, but their growing environment must not retain excessive water. For this reason the use of normal garden soil will be disastrous, and they require a bark or peat growing media. Paphiopedilums lack pseudobulbs, the normal water storage structures found in most orchids. For this reason they require a much more even supply of moisture throughout the whole year.
The growth habit is sympodial, they grow sideways with new growths developed in the spring, which mature over the next 9 to 12 months, produce flowers, and then develop one or two new growths themselves.
Plants can be purchased in flower relatively inexpensively, and this is generally preferable for new growers. Small plants can take 4 to 6 years from seed to reach flowering size. You can grow from seed yourself, but contrary to the usual garden plants, seed must be sown and germinated in sterile containers which new growers can find difficult. Also, the establishment of plants from the flasks, while an interesting challenge, can be difficult for those without some experience of orchid growing or who do not have more than basic growing facilities.
Seedlings can be purchased, which will produce variable flowers even where the same parents are involved, reflecting the variation and quality of the parents. A group of seedlings can be interesting to grow, as you never really know what you are purchasing, and the variation in individual plants gives added interest. Most orchids will, however, be obtained as divisions. Mericlones, which have been a major factor in the improvement in the quality of many orchids, are not available for paphiopedilums, and therefore only divisions of top plants, or seedlings, are available.
Paphiopedilums in broad terms can be placed into a number of groups based on their cultural requirements.
GROUP 1 The single flowered green leaved species and hybrids such as Paphiopedilum insigne, Paphiopedilum spicerianum, Paphiopedilum Leeanum are easily grown No supplementary heat is required, although very cold conditions must be avoided. It is plants from this group that are generally recommended for new growers, or for those with limited space or growing facilities.
GROUP 2 The mottled leaved species and hybrids including Paphiopedilum concolor, Paphiopedilum bellatulum and Paphiopedilum Maudiae. Plants from this group generally have single flowered inflorescences, and require some additional warmth in this country. Often this is more easily provided in the home or small glasshouse by way of a heat board or propagating bed. The mottled leaved Paphiopedilum venustum naturally growing at high altitudes, is an exception, being suited to Group 1 conditions.
GROUP 3 The green leaved paphiopedilums having multiflowered inflorescences, the individual flowers which open either in succession or together, depending on the plant involved. These generally require more heat than their mottled leaved cousins. These plants are generally larger growing than those found in either Group 1 and 2.
*(Philip C. Tomlinson Â© 1997)
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