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Orchids and Their Origins

Updated on August 8, 2015

Hybrid of the prairie lady's slipper orchid and the yellow lady's slipper orchid.



In this the fourth in the series Historical and Botanical information about some familiar flowering species we review some beautiful orchids and their relatives. The historical accounts are taken from Reichenbachia by F. Sander, as do the historical images. The book was published 1888-1890, and may be found in the Missouri Botanical Garden, Peter.H.Raven Library.

Odontoglossum crispum

1888-1890 | Source

Odontoglossum crispum

We commence our review of the beautiful orchid species with Odontoglossum crispum. The earliest record we have of O.crispum dates back as far as 1842. In that year it was discovered by Hartweg, while on a botanical excursion to New Grenada for the Horticultural Society London. he found it in the woods near the villages of Pacho and Ziquapira in the Province of Santa Fe de Bogota, and he sent home dried specimens, which the late Dr. Lindley named O.crispum on account of its crisped edged flowers.

For twenty years nothing was heard of this fine orchid, until, at length it was found by John Weir when collecting for the Royal Horticultural Society. In 1863, live plants were successfully imported by him . When they flowered they were so different from Lindley's O.crispum, that Mr. Bateman considered it to be a new species, and named it O. alexandrae in compliment of the Princess of Wales. Afterwards, when other importations arrived. it was thought that O.alexadrae was but a variety of O.crispum. Intermediate varieties were flowered which connected the large bold flowered forms with unbranched spikes, with the starry flowered forms with branched spikes, as in the original O.crispum.

Being such a variable plant many distinct varieties have flowered out of the large importations that have reached this country . Although the graphical range of O.crispum is comparatively limited, there is a marked difference in the varieties found in various localities. The Pacho mountains are the home of the finest sorts, and here the plants grow on the lower branches of the forest trees, in the company of O.gloriosum and O. lindleyanum, two inferior species in the point of beauty, but which have perhaps been instrumental in producing the beautiful narrow petalled supplied hybrids

The aim of these orchids are to keep them out of extremes of heat and cold, keep them in a cool moist atmosphere, throughout the year, artificial heat is so injurious to cool orchids that occur naturally in mountain regions.

Modern day account--- Odontoglossum crispum is an epiphytic orchid of the family Orchididae and the Order Asparagales. they are placed in the sub-family-Epidendroideae. This plant has erect or arching linear to strap shaped leaves. These leaves are sharply pointed at the tip and narrowed below where they are folded along the mid-vein length ways at the base to form a long, narrow petiole-like stem.

The flower spike is graceful and arching and can be up to 50cm long. Flowers are closely spaced on the upper part of the flower spike. There are between six and twenty four flowers on each spike, although the flowers vary in colour and degree of crumpling along the margins. However, the flowers are mostly white or a pale rose colour, sometimes more or less spotted and blotched with brownish or reddish brown.

O. crispum is found in the montane forests of Colombia at elevations from six thousand to ten thousand feet, including the eastern Cordillera and the Andes of southern Colombia. they grow chiefly on branches and the main trunk of Oak trees in partial shade and occasionally in full sun. The humidity is a constant 70-75 degrees throughout the year. In the 1901 edition of his orchid guide Sander descripbed 108 varieties of O.crispum.

As touched upon in the historical account the plant is extremely variable and confusion among botanists have incorrectly identified odontoglossum crispum as sperate species these include O.alexandrae {previously mentioned} o.bluntii. O. edithiae. O. latimaculatum.and O. recihenbachianum. There are starry-like flowers and Pachotyne flowers among the varieties available.

Odontoglossums for the gardener.---O. bictoniense-is a evergreen epiphytic orchid for a cool greenhouse. height 23 cm {nine inches} they produce olive green flowers 4cm {one and a half inches } across, barred with dark brown and each with a sometimes pink flushed white lip, are produced in spikes in late summer. requires shade in summer.

O.cordatum is an evergreen epiphytic orchid again for a cool greenhouse or conservatory. it grows to the height of 12cm {five inches}. The sprays of blooms are marked corn yellow and they are two and a half cm across {one inch}. provide shade in summer and keep very dry in winter.

O. 'Royal occasion' is an evergreen, epiphytic orchid for a cool greenhouse or conservatory. it grows to the height of 15cm { 6 inches} . they produce spikes of white flowers 8cm {3 inches} wide, with yellow blotched lips, during the atumn and winter. they require shade in summer

Odontoglossum crispum

3.0 unported . 1.0 ,2.5, 2.0 and 1.0 generic licenses
3.0 unported . 1.0 ,2.5, 2.0 and 1.0 generic licenses | Source

Cattleya percivaliana

Historical account---When Professor Reichenback first described this new Cattleya from the dried specimens we sent him, he concluded his description with the prediction that, "This Cattleya may prove a source of great enjoyment". Since then thousands of plants have been distributed, not only to this country but all over Europe, and in the United States, and much enjoyment has undoubtedly been derived from it, for it has proved to be a most beautiful orchid, extremely variable in colour, and particularly valuable on account of it flowering in the depths of winter.

Its introduction awakened a great deal of interest among Orchidists, who had been anxious to get a Cattleya that would flower during the latter part of the year, so as to fill the breach that occurs between the flowering season of the old autumn,. Cattleya labiata and C.trianae.

C.percivaliara does this, as it begins to flower in January and continues to bloom until March. So that now, since the introduction of C. gaskelliana, which flowers in summer and autumn, we have a Cattleya flowering the whole year. it was named after Mr.Percival who was an enthusiastic admirer and excellent cultivator of Cattleyas.

The Orchid is found at high altitudes in Venezuela extending sometimes to over four thousand feet, and invariably grows on rocks, not in trees. Moreover, it is always in full exposure to the sun generally in the vicinity of river courses, which in the rainy season affords an abundant moisture to the plants. It may therefore be regarded as a rock orchid and consequently pot culture is the best for it. It should be grown in a sunny position as it needs all the light we can give it in this country and it should never be heavily shaded.

During March it should be kept dry, indeed not a single drop of water should be given, in order to conduce to the thorough ripening of the bulbs, for this, as in the case with all other Cattleya's is the chief consideration.

Modern day account---this is a species that is often referred to as the Christmas orchid { as are C.triane and Angraecum sesquipedale}. Cattleya is a genus of the Family Orchidaceae belonging to the Order Asparagales, which consist of about 113 known species that are native to Costa Rica and tropical South America. They are named after Sir William Cattley. They are widley appreciated for their showy flowers which occur in all colours with the exception of blue of black. The typical flower has three sepals and usually three broader petals.Two of these sepals are very similar to each other, the third forming a large conspicuous lip adorned with markings of a large or lesser degree. They often have a frilly margin. At the base they are often formed into a tube. the number of flowers produced depends on the species and varies from a single flower up to ten.

Cattleya's have been hybridized, both within the genus but also with other genera for more than a century. the flowers of these hybrids may be up to 15cm {6 inches or more}.

For the Gardener-- Catteleya bowringinana is an evergreen epiphytic orchid for a cool green house or conservatory. It attains the height of 45cm {18inches} In autumn bears large heads of rose purple lipped magenta flowers 8cm {3inches} across. Needs to be placed in semi shade in the summer.

Cattleyas are named after Sir William Cattley.

Cattelya percivaliana

The drawing was done with permission of Lord Rothschild, from a plant in the Tring Park Collection
The drawing was done with permission of Lord Rothschild, from a plant in the Tring Park Collection | Source

Cypripedium calceous

Drawing taken from a plant that flowered in a nursery in February
Drawing taken from a plant that flowered in a nursery in February | Source

Cypripedium sanderianum

Historical account -----The discovery of this new species adds another to that small group of Eastern Cypripedium which are justly regarded as the most handsome of the genus. Before the introduction of this species there were eight others species known to the group. These are C.platytuenium. C.glandulifolium. C.stonei. C.parishii. C.laevigatum. C.roebelenii. C.lowii and C.haynaldianum.

All these differ materially from the Old World Cypripedia and have their counterpart in the Selenipedia of South America. From Reichenbach's description of the plant we take the following. He regards C.sanderianum as a near ally of C.philippinense and the recently introduced C.robelenii, but having more affinity with the latter on account of the narrower sepals which in C.philippinense are broadly deltoid.

The leaves are long, broad and of a bright green colour they shine as if varnished. The flower stems have a deep, reddish-purple, velvety covering, and bear from three to five flowers. The green bracts have a purple hue on the outside are ciliate at the edges, and striped with darker purple. The sepals are very concave, triangular, lanceolate, with dark purple veins and beset with stiff hairs. The petals are linear and tail like.They are broader at the base where they are a rich reddish purple mottled with a light hue. the tail like portions of the petals are blackish purple and the tips are quite blunt. The pouch is similar in shape to that of C.stoneii and is of a dark brownish red hue.

C.sanderianum is a native of the Malayan Archipelago there it needs a warm house, like its near allies. Like all Cypripediums it requires plenty of water during its growth, but the leaves must be kept dry during winter, as owing to their great substance they are prone to rot spots. It should be guarded well from the suns rays and be grown shady all the year round. it is a discovery of our collector J.Fostermann.

Modern day Cypripedium ----This genus now contains around 47 species of hardy 'Lady's slipper orchids'. they are encountered in the temperate and colder regions of the northern hemisphere, even in Alaska and Siberia which are unusually cold regions for orchids to grow. Many of these species are endangered in the wild. Indeed here in the UK Cypripedium calceolus was down to a single plant in the late 20th century, which grew in Yorkshire {northern England}. However, conservation efforts have brought it back from the brink of extinction and although still very rare its future is somewhat brighter than first feared.

Cultivated varieties--Cypripedium are now numerous with over 350 species {including the hybrids} are available to the orchidist. C.acaule {moccasin flower} is a deciduous terrestrial orchid which attains the height of 40cm {16 inches} tall. It is fully hardy and produces yellowish green or purple flowers 4-6 cm {1.5 to2.5 inches} long, each with a pouched pink or white lip. It flowers in spring and summer and grows best in partial shade.

C.macranthon is a deciduous terrestrial orchid also,reahing the height of 50 cm {20 inches}. it is fully hardy,producing pouched violet or purplish flowers 4-6cm {1.5 to 2.5 inches}. They are usually borne singly in spring and summer . this species also prefers partial shade.

Cypripedium calceous

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3.0 Unported license. | Source

Laelia euspatha


Coelogyne cristata

The best known and arguably the most beautiful orchid in the genus Coelogyne, is the old C.cristata, which it may be interesting to note was the identical species upon which Lindley established the genus in 1825. It was first introduced alive 50 years ago and made its first public appearance in the spring of 1841, when Mr.Barker of Birmingham, exhibited and won a Silver Knightian Medal for a plant of it at one of the London Horticultural Society's meetings, then held in Regent Street.

Although the orchid has been under cultivation so long, there are but a few varieties from its original type, and it was some years after its introduction that one appeared. The culture of C.cristata and its varieties is simple, and that is why so many fine specimens are met with. It is grown best in a cool greenhouse except during the time it is in flower, when a higher temperature, such as that of a Cattleya house or warm greenhouse will favour development of the flowers and tends to preserve them.Pots or pans are best for it, not hanging baskets, as the plants are apt to become too dry in these, and dryness is one of the points to guard against in the culture of this orchid. Once a plant has suffered excessive dryness the bulbs shrivel and it is long before they recover.

The flowering time commences in December and extends to February and March, hence the value of such a lovely orchid as this for a winter supply of flowers.

Modern day account---Coelgyne is a genus of the Orchidaceae family of plants that now contains over 200 species. They are distributed across India, China, Indonesia and the Fiji Islands. Borneo, Sumatra and the Himalayas being a particularly good source for them.

They often have a sweet scent which attracts pollinators such as bees, wasps and beetles. Although they have never been the 'in thing' with orchid growers there are now hybrids available such as C.mooreana x C. cristata

For the Gardener---Coelogyne flaccida is an evergreen, epiphytic orchid for a cool greenhouse and attains the height of 15cm { 6 inches}. In spring spikes of drooping star-shaped, light buff flowers appear. They are 4cm {1.5 inches} across, with yellow and brown markings on each lip. They require semi shade in summer.

C. speciosa is a vigorous evergreen, epiphytic which does best in an intermediate green house. they attain the height of 25cm {10 inches} in summer. they produce pendant light green flowers 6cm {2.5 inches} across with brown and white marked lips. They need to be positioned in good light during the summer.

Coelogyna cristata

3.0 Unported license
3.0 Unported license | Source

Laelia anceps


Laelia euspatha

Historical account---There were Phytographic writers who proposed to make six different classes of species according to their excellence that would be hard to decide between two botanists.

The difficulty of describing Laelia euspatha in 1860 is illustrated in the following terms--" I have no dounbt that this Laelia is a mule { an old botanical name for a hybrid -Dal} The pollinia are unequal as in the case of L.elegans, and I found but four, and , those cohering to both sides with the caudiculas. The limits of the connate pollinia may very often be seen by sinews on the border of them. The plant gives the impression of being a mule, between Laelia boothiana or purpurata with some Cattleya, as for instance C.intermedia."

" There appears occasionally very inconvenient things botanically, which one may neither regard as varieties nor well defined species"

Laelia euspatha is easily know by its fine rose sepals and petals and by the dark anterior lip, the inner parts of which are white or light yellow. It first appeared in Berlin with the late Herr Gehiemer Medicinalrath Dr.Casper, and at Paris with the late Mr Luddemann. Every addition that is made to that beautiful group of Brazilian Laelias represented by L.purpurata and L.elegans is welcomed by Orchidists, and, L.euspathe has an iffinity with both of these. However, this species of orchid will unfortunately remain a rarity, as it seldom occurs in its native habitat. It was found by one of our collectors E.Rimann, when travelling in Brazil, but he succeeded in bringing home half a dozen living plants only.

As regards its culture, we find that it succeeds under the same conditions as L.purpurata. Pot culture suits it best, and in order to sustain good drainage, the plant most be potted high, the pot being nearly filled with crocks and charcoal. Like other Brazilian Laelias, it needs most water when in growth , but should never allowed to become dry at any time. It likes plenty of light and an intermediate temperature which should not fall below sixty degrees F, for any lengthened periods.

Modern day account-- Laelia is a small genus of around 25 species of orchids. Laelia {thought to be named after one of the vestal virgins} belong to the family Orchidaceae and the sub family Laeliinae.

They are closely related to the Cattleyas {see above}. Laelia anceps is an impressive orchid with beautiful flowers and producing a stem which may be over a meter long. they are found in sub tropical or temperate climates of South America with Mexico being a prominent place for them.

Orchids seem to be the subject of regular classification ie, confusion { unless you are a specialist Orchid breeder}. As an example of this the Brazilian Laelias after being classified for several years under Sophrontis have now been placed in the genus Cattleya Several species formerly placed in the genus Schomburgka have been added to the genus Laelia. In January 2008 the International Orchid Committee voted to reduce Sophronitis to synonymy under Cattleya.

Laelia euspatha

The drawing was prepared from a plant in the possession of Alfred Wilson Esq,Westbrook, Sheffield North east England {1800s}
The drawing was prepared from a plant in the possession of Alfred Wilson Esq,Westbrook, Sheffield North east England {1800s} | Source


I conclude this article with this advise for the layman. As we have seen orchids are beautiful plants which vary in the way they grow and the temperature required to sustain them. If you see an orchid for sale, which you like the look of, take the advise for its cultivation from the grower or seller. If you feel you can give it a good home and a lot of TLC, then go for it.

Wild orchids {many of which are now rare } should be admired whenever you happen to come upon them. They are pleasing on the eye and an interesting plant to study. Thank you for reading and I hope you have enjoyed.

Green fringed orchid


Yellow Fringed Orchid



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    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi DDE, Thank you for being the first to visit.You are so kind. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Unique and fascinating information on orchards and their origins, such a pleasure to have ones garden


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