Paph species issues

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Rick Barry

Well-Known Member
Dec 16, 2006
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Even the most prideful and accomplished Paph growers admit to the demise of some plants for apparently inexplicable reasons. We are aware of several factors which typically contribute to the death of a plant; pests, pathogens and cultural factors are most commonly suspected. Occasionally, though, growers will admit that certain species tend to languish in their collections in spite of their own best efforts.

Certain genera are notably difficult to grow or flower, but Paphs are not usually included in that group, since they are not considered terribly exacting in their requirements. Given proper amounts of light and water most Paphs will grow and flower under typical household conditions. There are certain Paphs which are notoriously difficult to raise to maturity and (CITES notwithstanding) have not been widely distributed as a result. Other plants seem to survive for years, only to die seemingly of old age, in violation of the common assumption that an orchid plant should (given proper culture) live almost in perpetuity, or at least beyond the lifespan of most humans.

Paph growers (like most orchid growers) are hesitant to point out their own deficiences, but some have such sterling reputations that it's diificult to attribute their losses to their own activities. In spite of many attempts at line breeding, many breeders fail at producing vigorous lines of certain species. Those plants that do become available to the public often die shortly after being sold. These failures may be explainable in terms of low fertility or vigor, but over time line breeding should produce more fertile and vigorous breeding stock, in the process overcoming such limitations. Breeders may note the lack of a market for some species, but rare is the Paph collector who would pass up the opportunity to acquire, at a reasonable price, a species plant they don't already possess.

When a new species is discovered there is a familiar sequence of events that follows. Known populations are ripped out of the wild in response to the global demand for specimens. Smugglers distribute the plants to those willing to pay exhorbitant prices. Plants in bloom are immediately selfed or sibbed to satisfy the nearly insatiable demand. Within a number of years (depending upon the species) the species either is available in profusion or relatively rarely seen. Certain species stubbornly refuse to thrive.

It would be informative for Paph buyers to be aware of species that have never become widely available, and perhaps the reasons for this outcome. The current mania for Phrag kovachii may be an interesting case study in the propagation and dissemination of a new species. Might it develop that this species will turn out to be difficult to grow and bloom, even as its hybrids may flourish? No one can answer that question for a certainty, but experience tells us it is possible, and that is one reason I am hesitant to mortgage my home for a seedling. My other line of reasoning is that no matter how good the current crop of kovachii seedlings may turn out, line breeding with the best of these should ultimately produce far superior plants. Either way, I prefer to let the professionals work it out. I did the same with Paph sangii, and saved a few dollars in the process.

My question to other Paph growers (or even Phrag growers, if you feel left out) is: What species to you consider problematic in terms of bringing to maturity? Which species have seemed to decline over time, in spite of your best efforts? Consider species that you rarely see offered as divisions, or only see offered at absurdly high prices in spite of the fact that the species has been propagated for many years. What can be assumed from such experiences?

Just a few talking points for your consideration.

You pose some interesting questions and positions in your statement. I often wonder how many plants that are purchased on a daily basis by hobbyists will survive 5 or 10 years. There is definitely a learning curve with growing orchids, and the plants you think are really exciting aren't always the ones that you will grow well. The most direct result is that you lose (kill) many plants through ignorance, accident, laziness (repotting!), pests and calamity.

I have more than my share over 30 years of growing, and now realize that the warmer growing paphs will not survive in my cool Northwest weather unless I change my greenhouse to a warm phalaenopsis house.

My best growers are the cool growers and I have done well with insigne, villosum, micranthum, charlesworthii, armeniacum, spiceranum and hookerae among others.
The problematic ones are the brachypetalums, which I think are best under lights indoors and the multiflorals such as sanderianum that need 70F nights and warmer days year round to grow well. The hybrids with sanderianum seem to be a bit easier.

I managed to keep violascens alive for about 10 years and it never had more than 2 1/2 growths. Fairreanum is difficult long term but isn't tough to bloom.

The phrags are a bit easier in my conditions as I have very good water and love to use it.....The besseae hybrids are very easy and much easier than the species itself. Phrag besseae flavum is very difficult.....
Its been pointed out many times that difficulty in a paph species is variable...a difficult species to grow may be an easy one to bloom during its lifetime, and an easy grower may well be impossible to bloom for most people. I for one find most multiflorals difficult....they take forever to grow and don't like blooming under my conditions...I should say that I'm talking about roth and its relatives...haynaldianum and lowii are very easy to both grow and bloom. They don't necessarily die....I have a multigrowth philipinense that is very spiked when I first got it as a single growth division,15 years ago, and a squirrel took care of that before it could open...since then it has grown well, never spiked again. Roth neither grows nor blooms..well, it won't grow to a point where it even approximates being within a few years of blooming basically runs in place. On the other hand, as many people agree, brachy's are difficult to keep alive. My maximum is maybe 10 years,12?, for concolor....but while they live they are very easy to bloom. Complicating the issue is that, unlike most paphs, I find that brachy's are very resentful of repotting....they need it, but they hate I add extra perlite/rock, etc so repotting can be postponed as long as possible. I do not find them intolerant of fertilizer though...they are les sensitive than phrags in that regard. Many easy groups have tough members...insigne is as easy as a paph can get, but its close cousins are tougher...charlesworthii and fairreanum for example...Take care, Eric
tigrinum is a thorn in my side. Darn tight crowns on this species love to rot. I sometimes experience Brachy decay (slow downhill slide over five years or so), but have attributed some of this to silly ignorance and getting inferior plants. Doing much better with them recently.

I don't have many paphs as I had years ago-rats got into my greenhouse and ate most of them down to a stub!!! While I have only purchased a few in the past two years my interest has been in challenging my conditioning in how to grow them. What really got me thinking along these lines is that many years ago I had set up in a garage a large rectangular galvanized steel cow trough set up with flourescents and grew and flowered P. concolor. Since the day of the rats I have only grown the surviving P. insigne, druryi, and a couple of hybrids with only the insigne flowering consistently under the low light levels in the g/h. With the recent purchase of P. delenatii, P. malipoense, and P. armeniacum I decided to throw caution to the wind and hang these up nearer the roof as well as mount one of the P. delenatii. My aim is to push the plant to see just what it will handle under my conditions. It is my belief that most growers are growing their plants "soft" as the cultural information only reflects what works in general but fails to approach the diversity in cultural tactics that varies from grower to grower. At this time I would not even consider multiflorals settling for phrags. Plants such as P. philippinense should be grown in situations more like vandas than the shaded houses that I have seen in my few visits to growers. I really think that the problem of a plant failing is due more to trying to grow a specimen than to keeping it in a state of regular division and under some stress of culture. Makes me wonder if, like humans, plants get soft too?
Ernie said:
tigrinum is a thorn in my side. Darn tight crowns on this species love to rot.

tigrinum has been my best grower by far. I have one mature plant that grows almost as fast as a phal, and 20 or so seedlings that have been very vigorous as well. My mature plant is outside, subject to frequent rain, and hasn't had a rot problem.
Tony said:
tigrinum has been my best grower by far. I have one mature plant that grows almost as fast as a phal, and 20 or so seedlings that have been very vigorous as well. My mature plant is outside, subject to frequent rain, and hasn't had a rot problem.

:p Yeah, Mr West Palm Beach! :) Now I consider that a challenge- send me a division and we'll see if I manage to kill it. Actually, since you have seedlings, e-mail me if you want to pawn some off or do a trade. What parental clones were used?

They're from Orchid Inn breeding, 'Charge Up' x 'Proud Bengal' AM/AOS. The seedlings are still in compots, but after they're ready to seperate, I may be convinced to part with a few, but it will have to be a sweet deal, because I really like this species.
Difficult species, there are many
I have trouble with the mottled leaf, because I grow on the cool side. Lawrenceanum, etc fair poorly. On the other hand, I have a group of malioense, micranthums, & armeniacums that have been with me 10+ years. Paph addutum has been a thorn in my side. Paph tigrinum, while not vigorous, it maintains well enough.
stonei is one that I can grow, but I think that is unusual since the people I've bought flasks from have always begged me out when the plants are about a year old. I don't think I've ever had the opportunity to grow one to adult size...

I have trouble with all other multifloral species, including roths (which grow, but veeeery slowly for me). The 'maudiae type' species, anything with a mottled leaf, I have very little problem with. I am not so good with brachypetalums in my greenhouse. Bellatulum in particular does not thrive. Niveum and concolor do pretty well, I just can't grow bellatulum.

I concur that there is a wealth of flasks and seedlings for all sorts of species paphs out there, but a suspicious lack of many adult plants of some species. I'm not at all sure what to make of it. Usually when I lose a flask I assume it is just me (I lose a fair number), but I would believe it as a trend. I think that most people who are breeding are using plants that are vigorous (I would), so I would hope that as time goes on, the more difficult species would become easier.
I've got too many plants I can't seem to grow well. :eek: But I'd never conclude that any of those particular species are harder to grow until I tried several/many specimens. In fact, I concluded several years ago that malipoense was easy because I got one to rebloom and so bought several more. None are doing as well as that first one.
I might add that I think that overall, brachy's are probably getting easier...mainly, I believe, because since all are basically line bred, the easiest growing clones have been selected. Also, we tend to neglect the individuality of paphs, because most of us do not have large collections of the same species....unlike large breeders who grow hundreds of each type, and can easily judge which types really are harder than others. Many people have complained about tigrinum being difficult...but my one experience was with a tiny division of what had been a collected plant. Over the decade or so that I had it, I found it one of my fastest growing paphs, and after its first 2 attempts, an easy and reliable easy, I fell into the trap of dividing it too often...which is why I don't have it anymore.....and why I don't rush to divide my best plants unles they divide themselves...Take care, Eric
Good points in the last two messages.
re: tigrinum. My plant grew (and hopefully still does in Jon's care) like a WEED. When I come across old photos of it I am amazed at how much it grew in just two years. But it blasted every sheath it sent up, despite my knowing it's weaknesses and being extremely careful watering. I sure hope someone can get it to bloom already! I will be SO proud, because in my heart, I had a little something to do with it getting there.

I think what Eric says is quite true. If I struggle with a plant, I hope that by sending it to another of you folks, it will survive and thrive!

Mark has a good point too - when we have success we are impulsive about it. It doesn't always pay off. I've been trying to grow stonei 'Fernwood' for years now. I think I finally have one growing, but I know for a fact it isn't growing as well as certain vendors are growing it.
I can't say about bringing Paphs into bloom because I've not been growing enough of them long enough yet. But I can't seem to keep concolor alive...
Eric Muehlbauer said:
....unlike large breeders who grow hundreds of each type, and can easily judge which types really are harder than others. Eric

One of my experiences in growing flasks is the great variability from one plant to the next in the same cross. Some are just not as vigorous as others and with rare but desirable species, unfortunately, I think many less than vigorous plants are sold because of the demand.

Six years ago I bought a partial flask of bellatulum from one grower and 75% of the seedlings died. The other 25% are still only 3 inches across (I've never sold any of these, BTW), and they are probably headed for the trash heap. Three years ago I bought a flask from another grower and the first one has already bloomed and many are blooming sized. If I had stopped with the first batch, I would have concluded the bellatulum was hard to grow.

So far, fairrieanum is my hardest species to keep alive and my villosum is a huge, unbloomed, multi growth plant.
Naturally it is difficult for one growing area to provide the appropriate conditions for all species. What I am referring to are the species that don't do particularly well for anybody, professional or hobbyist. I'm not referring to speed of growth. Large multiflorals are particularly slow, but have been successfully grown for decades. Brachys are supposedly prone to rot, but many of us have managed to overcome that obstacle, thanks to some judicious line breeding and culling of weak seedlings.

I'm thinking here of the species that you almost never see at shows and sales, the ones that may be available in flask or compot, maybe even seedlings, but rarely as flowering plants or divisions.

Consider Paph sangii. It was described some 20 years ago, yet it never made it into wide circulation. I know a number of growers who purchased seedlings years back, but when I later inquired about them I was met with expressions of disappointment. Was sangii discovered on the fast track to an evolutionary dead end?

Another species that seems problematic to even the best of growers is Paph mastersianum. I remember seeing a considerable quantity from the Orchid Zone at the Pacific Orchid Exposition several years ago. I had one from that crop myself. Yet in the intervening years I have seen very few, and it's not as if I'm not looking for a replacement for the one I killed!

How many of us have had success in growing Paph violascens and its closest kin? My guess is not too many.

I'd like to know how many of us (particularly commercial growers, who have even attempted to grow in volume) have had any real success with these species.
Since I've only been growing for 5 years I can't claim major rights to success or failure, and like Mark, most of my experience is with fewer than 5 plants (excluding seedlings) of any given species.

But in general I haven't come across any multi thats given me total fits. But randsii has a reputation that I've not had a chance to play with yet.

I've had good short term growth and flowering of parvis, but some recent losses that have got me second guessing.

Brachy's probably not that far behind. But I do have a bellatulum that has been flowering and dividing regularly for about 5 years now.

The south pacific barbatas (like mastersianum and sangii) have grown OK for me (not bloomed yet, but blasted a single growth mastesianum this winter), but I think that many of the barbata with extra thin leaves (I've lost more purpuratum than I would like to admit to) are very susceptable to problems due to low humidity and poor air flow. They also seem to get upset in higher light conditions.
The simple answer...they are hard to grow. I have tried all three...sangii never made it past the seedling stage, died after 3 months. The others are easier. I had a violascens for many years....slow grower, but easy to spike...1 growth a year, but it spiked every year. the summer. So of course, it would blast in the heat. I had a "papuanum"...also violascens, that was spiked in the fall, so I could see it bloom once in a while. Interestingly enough, both of these moderately successful plants were purchased in the 1980's, and were presumably from collected stock. I also had a mastersianum...slow, but bloomed quite easily...but did not live more than 3 years. I currently have a seedling now that is growing very well. There was a thread about these species a few months ago....a lot of people say they need more humidity...I won't argue. As for not seeing them at shows, only mastersianum is "spectacular" enough for a display in an orchid show...violascens looks great to me, but I am a paph lover...won't impress too many others....and sangii is more than just an acquired taste...I was horrified when I read the original description and saw the accompanying photos...swore I would never waste space on it. (My opinion is different now...)...But I am sure that growers who want to create a spectacular impression (and sell lots of plants) are not too thrilled with the idea of a plant like sangii taking all the attention...Take care, Eric

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