Cattleya“ KAT-lee-ah” is a genus of 113 species of orchids from Costa Rica and the Lesser Antilles south to Argentina. The genus was named in 1824 by John Lindley after William Cattley who received and was the first to bloom a specimen of Cattleya labiata.
William Swainson had discovered the new plant in Pernambuco, Brazil, in 1817 and shipped to the Glasgow Botanic Gardens for identification. Swainson requested that a few plants be later sent to Cattley, who was able to bloom one a full year before the plants in Glasgow.
It would be another 70 years before they would be rediscovered in the wild because of a mix up in the assumed location of the plants. The genus is abbreviated C. in trade journals..
They are widely known for their large, showy flowers, and were used extensively in hybridisation for the cut-flower trade until the 1980's when pot plants became more popular.
This genus and the numerous hybrids come close, through their beauty, to the idealized picture we have of the orchids. The flowers of the hybrids can vary in size from 5 cm to 15 cm or more. They occur in all colours except true blue and black.
The typical flower has three rather narrow sepals and three usually broader petals: the two lateral petals are similar to each other, and the third is the quite different conspicuous lip, featuring various markings and specks and an often frilly margin. At the base, the margins are folded into a tube. Each flower stalk originates from a pseudobulb. The number of flowers varies; it can be just one or two, or sometimes up to ten.
Cattleyas flower in spring or autumn, depending on the variety, but some of the newer, compact hybrids flower two or even three times per year.
Special needs: Cattleyas grow best in moderate humidity and medium to bright light, and in mid-range temperatures. They require filtered shading in warmer climates or over a hot summer. Let the potting mix dry out in between watering.
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Cattleya intermedia var. coerulea 'Celeste' HCC/AOS © 2010 Greg Allikas