Phrag. besseae

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'Haven' x 'Smokin'

A mother's day gift. I got one for myself too, of course.


The discovery of the brilliant Phrag. besseae in 1981 set off a flurry of phragmipedium hybridization that still continues unabated to this day. For much of the 20th century, a limited color palette and genetic incompatibility issues had all but shut down phrag breeding, and interest in the genus was perhaps at an all-time low. However, the combination of the shocking red-orange color of Phrag. besseae and the extraordinary chromosomal work by the late Don Wimber of the Eric Young Orchid Foundation resulted in a veritable explosion in phrag hybridization and popularity. Revolutionary first-generation hybrids such as Eric Young, Memoria Dick Clements, and Ruby Slippers paved the way for spectacular second-generation hybrids like Don Wimber and Jason Fischer, and these will be used in turn to generate still more advanced breeding lines. It is safe to say that phrags are now more popular than they have ever been, and that this is a truly exciting time to be a phrag phanatic!

Phrag. besseae is known as a somewhat temperamental species, although successive line-breeding has produced plants that are much easier to grow. Plants are still prone to sending off stolons up to 4-6" in length, which virtually necessitate shallow pots or basket culture. Like the long-petalled phrags, besseae is prone to a basal rot in the heat of summer, and constant vigilance is required in order to catch this at an early stage. Phrag. besseae is exceptionally intolerant of fertilizer, and will show its dislike of a rich diet with spotted brown leaf tips that progressively die back. It does seem to appreciate sphagnum moss, however, and a combination of sphagnum and clay pots works well for many growers. Cooler temperatures seem to result in more intensely-red flowers, although the peak of the flowering season is typically during the spring and summer months.

Phrag. besseae and its close relative Phrag. dalessandroi are native to Peru and Ecuador. In addition to its typical red-orange color, Phrag. besseae also exists in a yellow form, as well as in various shades of peach and salmon. Phrag. dalessandroi is believed by most to represent a distinct species, and can be identified by its short rhizomes, downswept petals, and readily-branching inflorescences.