The plants described below belong to a sub-tribe known as the Oncidiinae. They grow naturally in the tropical and sub-tropical Americas and the Caribbean, mainly as epiphytes. There are a confusing number of genera and hundreds of species. Some sections interbreed freely in cultivation and there are a large number of intergeneric names. The taxonomists have recently had a field day with this sub-tribe and many plants we know as odonto- glossums and oncidiums have been reclassified and given new names.
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The aptly named spider orchids have long, narrow petals and sepals. Native to tropical America, they can be grown under the same conditions as cattleyas, and appreciate lots of light. The flowers dispose themselves neatly along arching or drooping clusters. Grow them for their form; the colors are muted and the fragrance odd, if perceptible at all. They have contributed something of their long-legged look to a number of intergeneric hybrids.
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These attractive orchids are similar to Odontoglossum in habit and require the same cool growing conditions. They have proved extremely important in bringing bright color into a number of hybrids with Odontoglossum and Miltonia.
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These are dwarfish plants with leathery leaves and little in the way of pseudo bulbs. They can be grown in small pots, but do better on a slab. Comparettia orchids do not like high light intensities, needing much the same growing environment as Colombian miltoniopsis. They bear up to 20 or so 2 in (5 cm) or smaller showy flowers on a stem, the large lip being a prominent feature. Comparettia coccinea has red flowers; C. falcata has cerise flowers and C. speciosa has striking orange flowers.
Formerly known as Odontoglossum pendulum (0. citrosmum), this cool grower has 6-inch pseudo bulbs and 12-inch leaves. The arching then drooping inflorescence is 1 1/2 to 3 feet long and is crowded with 3-inch pure white or pink-lipped flowers. These appear from late spring to autumn and have a sweet lemony scent.
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Grow this orchid in a hanging basket or pot to accommodate the trailing inflorescence. Keep it dry in winter, misting or watering just enough to keep the pseudo bulbs from shriveling. It is hardy, possibly to 20°F (-7°C).
Many of the Mexican and Central American members of Odontoglossum have been reassigned to this genus. (It is a reminder of the evanescence of botanical standing that they may eventually be called Rhynchostele.) Like members of Odontoglossum, they are cool growers, though more warmth tolerant.
These are referred to as Brazilian miltonias, a term often used to distinguish them from Miltoniopsis when both were called miltonias. The flowers are more star-shaped and with a less generous lip than their Colombian cousins.
This genus has been extensively used with other members of the oncidium alliance to produce many widely grown intergeneric hybrids. A species still very popular in cultivation is Miltonia spectabilis, with flattened pseudo bulbs and 6 in (15 cm) yellowish-green foliage. The somewhat flattened flower stems bear one or two 3 in (7.5 cm) flowers in summer. Variety moreliana has large, deep-purple flowers and is widely cultivated. Brazilian miltonias have a reputation of being easy to grow. They are more tolerant of less-than-perfect conditions than the Colombian miltoniopsis. They will grow with, and can be treated the same as, cattleyas.
This is the name now given to the so-called Colombian miltonias, although they are found elsewhere. They are still treated as the genus Miltonia in naming intergeneric hybrids with other genera, and are often referred to as "pansy orchids", due to the general appearance of the flowers. One to several flowers open on a stem in colors ranging from white or yellow to deep purple, often with a central pattern of a different color, called a mask. The plants have oval, compressed pseudo bulbs and 8 in (20 cm), fragile looking, gray-green leaves. Hybrids seem to be grown most often these days but occasionally seen are two of the important ancestral species, Miltoniopsis vexillaria and Miltoniopsis roezlii.
Miltoniopsis are high-elevation plants from wet cloud forests. Light intensity, temperatures and potting media are the same as for Odontoglossum. Do not over-pot, water before the medium has quite dried out in summer but let it dry out (but not for long) in winter.
Having said this, it is noticeable that growers with the most superbly grown and flowered plants usually keep their nightly minimum temperatures between 54°F (12°C) and 60°F (15°C). These plants are ideal for growing on window sills and in the company of Phalaenopsis. The flowering season is spring and summer.
This once-large genus has been reduced by attrition, all of its Central American and Mexican species having been spirited off into other genera. To avoid confusion those refugees are listed here, but with a cross-reference to their new names. Most of the remaining "true" odontoglossums are cool-growing plants from the high, cool, misty mountains of South America. Many of the hybrids with other genera are more tolerant of intermediate temperatures.
The number of species in Oncidium ranges in estimate from 300 to as many as 600. They grow from Mexico and the Caribbean islands to the southern borders of Brazil; a few stragglers have been found in southern Florida. Some grow in the sweltering lowlands; others favor the high, cool, misty mountains. Most will thrive in intermediate temperatures given bright light, ample water during growth and bloom, no complete drying-out, and good air circulation.
Grow oncidiums in pots or baskets filled with bark or perlite and bark. Some of the smaller ones are attractive mounted on pieces of wood, bark, or tree fern. Those with drooping sprays should be grown in hanging baskets. Some have tall, branching inflorescences that will require staking.
In most species slender, branching sprays of flowers come in shades of yellow and red or reddish brown, but a few are white or pink. The flowers of most have flaring petals, often expanded toward the tips, and a full, ruffled lip; to some they suggest dancing dolls or ballerinas. The flowers last well, both on the plant and when cut. Florists call them spray orchids. Only a representative few can be mentioned here.
Once included in Odontoglossum, these plants differ in having small, white, very fragrant flowers. Less dependent on coolness than Odontoglossum, they thrive at intermediate temperatures.
The butterfly orchids were formerly included in the Oncidium genus; they differ from it in producing a succession of single flowers from the top of the inflorescence down. The flowers are large and oddly formed: the dorsal sepal and petals (the upper half of the flower) are extremely narrow, resembling antennae. The lower sepals and lip, in contrast, are broad and strongly marked.
Grow them on a raft or in a pot filled with coarse bark. They prefer intermediate temperatures. Do not remove the flower stalk after the flower fades; it may continue to produce flowers for several years. Bloom is sporadic throughout the year.
This tiny orchid has no pseudo bulbs; instead, its leaves grow in a fan like a miniature iris. The entire plant is just 3 inches tall. Each flowering stem produces one to six 1-inch-wide flowers in succession. These are yellow, with faint brown markings. Grow this one on a bark raft or a piece of tree fern. It needs a humid atmosphere, but the roots should dry out between waterings.
These small, easily grown plants come from the forests of Central America and northern South America. Grow them like cattleyas, except that they need no rest period. They flourish either on rafts or potted in fine bark. Give them ample water throughout the year. Bloom may occur at any time of year.
TIGER ORCHID. This large, very showy orchid thrives in cool to intermediate conditions. The 6- to 12-inch inflorescence carries two to eight 6-inch, glossy, heavy-textured flowers of yellow barred in a deep reddish brown. The growing medium should be fine bark containing some leaf mold. Water the plants heavily when in growth; then withhold water, giving them only enough to prevent the shriveling of the pseudo bulbs. Repot the plants and resume watering when new growth begins. Bloom occurs in winter.
These small growers have relatively large flowers. Their pseudo bulbs are small or absent, their leaves fleshy or leathery, their horizontal inflorescences short with few flowers. Grow them on rafts or in pots. They thrive under cattleya conditions.
These compact, intermediate-temperature orchids have relatively large cattleya-shaped flowers on short, few-flowered stems, several of which may spring from a single pseudo bulb. Give plants Oncidium conditions: plenty of water during the growing season followed by a 2- to 3-week rest period.
Hybridizers have had a field day crossing the many genera in the Oncidium alliance. Most hybrids represent a distinct improvement over their parents, in either appearance or ease of culture. The latter is the result of hybrid vigor (heterosis): an increase in size or tolerance of varying conditions that results from the combined genes of the two parents. The number of these hybrids is so great that only a cursory mention of them is possible here. Odontoglossum, Oncidium, and Miltonia have been the principal genera involved, but Cochlioda and other genera have been used as well.
The genus Oncidium contributes both vigor and a free-blooming habit to many of these crosses, along with a propensity to produce yellow and brown flowers with prominent lips. Miltonia and Odontoglossum contribute large flower size. (The broad petals and sepals of Odontoglossum tend to compensate for the small flower parts of Oncidium. )
The color range draws on Oncidium and Odontoglossum for russet and yellow tones. From Miltonia comes a velvety finish and broad, rounded contours. Cochlioda, Rodriguezia, and Trichocentrum contribute bright color and moderate plant size. Crosses involving Brassia show a marked increase in the length of the sepals and petals. Following are a few of the many names you are likely to encounter.
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