Summer’s Bouquet

by Colleen Rochette

All life seems to flourish throughout the hot spells here in New York. As the varied trees, rose bushes and vegetable gardens grow wildly, adolescent birds flirt and chatter, hopping from stoop to stoop. They eventually flutter back into the loving limbs of a lush bush or potted public foliage. Folks linger in the streets, moving slowly. Sometimes smiles flash abundantly, despite the sweat that rests upon one’s upper lip, brow or hairline. The dogs smile too as they pit-pat down the sidewalk, steadily swaying their hips.

Ever so often, pouty clouds roll across the sky, promising a break from a long streak of multiple, fiery days. That magical moment arrives when the blue heavens are slowly masked by grey fluff. In response, the humidity spikes. As fat raindrops threaten to parachute downward, everyone looks up, then down, then around. Sans umbrella, some decide to shuffle towards a dry canopy while attempting to adjust the short skirts that inch up around their sticky, summer stems.

In anticipation of the heat breaking everyone is aware of the relentless humidity. If I happen to be at home with my love, I can often hear him mumbling about how damp everything feels. Before a complaint can escape my lips, I immediately catch myself and smile. At this point I am usually kneeling upon the braided rug on the floor, next to my orchids, waving my hygrometer in the air. Both of our cats lay flat upon the parquet, spreading their flesh as thin as possible, waiting for the sky to open up. “Baby, the humidity is only 85 percent,” I laugh uncomfortably. The excess moisture feels weird on my skin too, but I know that other beings within an arms reach are quite comfortable. This makes me happy. Flowers make me happy too.

After my orchid-rearing endeavors have continued for yet another year, watering and re-potting are quite routine. I admire the shiny green and red tips that emerge from new roots and take care not to let water rest within an orchid’s deep crown or young, emerging growths. But there are times I seem to overlook prospective flowers while caring for my green friends on a daily basis. Perhaps I occasionally prefer surprises; I am unsure.

During July, I felt fortunate to have my Dendrobium hemimelanoglossum, Maxillaria tenufolia and Cadetia taylori share their sweet bouquets with me. I carefully watched the teeny, needle-like spike develop on my Dendrobium for quite some time, but the developing buds on my Maxillaria and Cadetia went completely unnoticed until they were about to unfold.

Above, Dendrobium hemimelanoglossum in flower. I purchased this orchid earlier this spring. When she was delivered to me via post, she was just a seedling, displaying her very first flowers. Dendrobium hemimelanoglossum‘s initial blossoms faded about a day after her arrival. I was surprised that after a few months of caring for her, she decided to blossom once again. She seems to be pretty content upon her new cork mount.

As the blossoms on her new spike emerged, Dendrobium hemimelanoglossum decided to produce an additional spike on another smaller pseudobulb. She also gave birth to a new growth. At first I thought that her second spike was a keiki and was a little confused. As it lengthened, it became clear that more blossoms were set to arrive within the coming weeks.

Dendrobium-hemimelanoglossum 1

Admittedly, my camera is not fancy. This little handheld digital camera works wonderfully for capturing day-to-day moments with beautiful color and clarity, but the macro feature on this device can be a little eh eh. Many snapshots later, I usually can manage to capture the intricacy of some blooms, but these are not as clear as I has hoped for them to be. Due to the teeny nature of some flowers, my camera’s auto focus gets a little confused at times.

While I was checking dryness of my Masevallia‘s spaghnum, I noticed the two tiny little white orbs on my Cadetia taylori. I was hardly expecting blossoms from her, particularly because she has not put out any new growth in the past year. I was also still perplexed because these buds were growing out of pseudobulbs that had previously flowered. There were two buds present at the time, but when I got around to photographing this orchid, one of the flowers had already wilted. She was in bloom for about 3 weeks.

Despite the size of Cadetia‘s flowers, they had a rather strong fragrance. I am really not well-versed in identifying mixed smells like honey lemon vanilla or peony ranch dressing and other muddled, complicated scents, so I will just say that she smelled very nice.

As Cadetia‘s two blossoms faded, some of her leaves did too. She had shed half of her thick leaves and then her naked pseudobulbs started to turn brown. I was convinced that it was time to repot a few new acquisitions and re-examine a handful of my other orchids.

There is such a vast wealth of knowledge that can be acquired while caring for orchids, it is almost dizzying. One is constantly learning from their mistakes, primarily because growing habitats, a grower’s care and their love are so personal. No two combinations seem to be the same.

Cadetia taylori has very tiny roots and it seems that when I received her a year ago, I did not want to take the time to sort through these wriggly strands and trim this jumbled mess. Tiny roots hurt my brain, but after recently admiring Cadetia‘s precious flowers, I felt obligated to take the time to do the right thing.

That afternoon I spent over an hour curled up in a tiny ball picking dead roots off of her pseudobulbs with tweezers. I ended up finding a small dead snail and my black t-shirt was completely covered in hair-like orchid roots. Cadetia was then repotted into a small clay pot.

Unfortunately, Maxillaria tenufolia is a bearer of tiny roots as well. Over the winter, I cautiously remounted my Maxillaria and have been babying her since this transition. I have read that Maxillarias can be a little finicky if their roots are disturbed, so I tried really hard not to fuss around with them too much. Although a Maxillaria‘s root system may appear to be dead, their mature roots can actually appear brown. After thoroughly wetting her roots, I had delicately trimmed off what appeared to be deceased.

When I had divided Maxillaria tenufolia, I also mounted a smaller portion and passed this along to my Mum. While visiting for her for Mother’s Day this spring, her Maxillaria had flowered. The color, texture and smell of the blossoms was divine. And then there was hope, a shed of light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps mine would perk up sometime soon, but I remained weary.

While I was watering my orchids the other day, I came across these two blossoms. I had noticed that our living room smelled a little different recently, but I did not expect that it was because of this. My Maxillaria has been developing new pseudobulbs all over her mount for months, but any buds that existed kept their presence secret.

The way that Maxillaria tenufolia forms buds is quite sneaky. Due to the short singular stems on each flower, it can be difficult to spot them amongst all of the unruly fronds. Additionally, they are also nestled deep within the brown husk that flanks each pseudobulb. Upon discovering these blooms, I touched the thick, waxy petals and simultaneously filled my lungs with their coconut perfume. I hoped that these flowers would last for quite awhile.

Amidst the birth of blossoms, there have been some losses. I suppose this is the way that life works. Quite often, things just do not go as planned.

Dendrobium goldschmidtianum, Dendrobium amethystoglossum and Dendrobium tannii all appeared to be very ill earlier this summer. Their green leaves consistently developed large amounts of spots and weird discolorations. After this occurred, the leaves would turn an awful shade of black and yellow and then fall from their pseudobulbs. This happened over and over again.

I initially suspected that some sort of fungus may be present and treated all three of these orchids with a Physan 20 mist. After multiple treatments and no response, I felt weird. They were not in direct sunlight. I watered during the day, the leaves were never wet for an extended period of time. The air movement in my growing areas was great. Perhaps it was a virus? It definitely was not an insect or a mite. Regardless, I feared for the health of my other plants and threw these three giants in the trash. It was not worth the risk.

Instead of replacing these common Dendrobium species, I have decided to make space for a few different orchids. A couple of Bulbophyllums, a Habenaria, a few Sobralia and a Stelis have recently joined my leafy family. I am excited to experiment with some orchids that I was either afraid to grow or knew absolutely nothing about. This should prove to be interesting.

Happy summer!