Orchids: Cycnoches ventricosum chlorochilum: Swan Orchid

The orchid is the veritable embodiment of the exotic atmosphere of the tropics. An interesting characteristic of orchids of the genera Cycnoches and Catasetum is that the flowers are unisexual, which is quite unusual among orchids. Often there is such a marked difference between the male and female flowers that the respective plants were described as separate species. This, however, does not apply to the species for the male and female flowers in this case are very much alike.

Cycnoches ventricosum (from which the variety differs only by the coloration and shape of the lip) grows in Central America, its range extending from Mexico to Panama. The variety chlorochilum is distributed from Panama to Vene-zuela.

The pseudo-bulbs are longish spindle-shaped, often as much as 30 cm (1 ft) high. The leaves, which are generally shed entirely during the flowering period, are up to 40 cm (16 in) long and about 6 cm (2-¾ in) wide. The huge flowers, 15 to 18 cm (6 to 7 in) in diameter, appear in late spring and early summer.

The habitat of these plants is of particular interest. They are often found on the dry trunks of dead trees or on the trunks of palm trees, to which they are pressed close without any compost. The roots grow upwards and form a kind of ‘brush’ that catches falling leaves and bits of soil carried up to the top of the tree by ants and termites. The structure of the leaves, which are very delicate and weak, appears to be at odds with this way of life, but during the dormant period, that is during the period of drought, they are shed and only the very succulent pseudo-bulbs remain exposed to the scorching heat of the sun.

This orchid, though suitable for home cultivation, is nevertheless rather large (pseudo-bulbs with leaves reach a height of approximately 70 cm [28 in]). If plenty of space is available in a sunny window and it is grown (without a compost) on cork oak bark, with water being withheld entirely during the winter, then it will reward the grower with lovely blooms.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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