|Building a Species Collection|
by Jeffrey Parker (2003-04-25)
Many years ago, I attended my first meeting of the Maui Orchid Society. On the display table among all the showy Hawaiian dendrobium and cattleya hybrids was a very strange plant. It had long round "rat-tail" leaves hanging down and pendant sprays of dramatic yellow and brown waxy flowers. This turned out to be a beautifully grown specimen of Oncidium stacyi, belonging to the late Mr. Ralph Yagi, one of Maui's only species enthusiasts at the time. I think it was at this precise moment that I began to distinguish between species and hybrids. I started to pick up a few species here and there. They survived and even flowered. I eventually came to the realization that for me the species were endlessly fascinating plus I was having fun and learning. Our collection evolved in a rather haphazard way at first, eventually going to a more orderly approach. A better way to go about building up one's species collection would be to look at the plants you are currently growing and decide which genera are doing best for you under the conditions you are able to provide. Then focus on acquiring more species from those genera for awhile. Likewise, if species from a certain type of climate seem to do well for you, then you might pursue species from other genera with a similar ecological origin.
Orchid species come from almost every corner of the Earth and are found growing at sea level in the tropics, with literally salt-spray splashing on them - all the way up to 10,000 ft. where the night temperatures may be just above freezing. You're not going to be able to duplicate all those climatic conditions. However, orchids are some of the most adaptable plants on the planet. We can have success with species from greatly differing habitats. Whether your growing conditions consist of a windowsill, a basement, or a climate-controlled greenhouse - you will be able to identify microclimates within your growing area. A particular plant might be moved closer to the glass or light source, nearer the heat or cooling source, closer to a source of humidity, or perhaps nearer to the fan or fresh air vent. Old timers will tell you that sometimes, moving a plant a few inches can mean the difference between it thriving or languishing (BUT don't move your plants around constantly, they hate that!)
An obvious consideration when building your collection is how much space you have available. While large orchid species certainly put on beautiful showy displays, many small orchids can be accommodated in a cramped space.
The orchid kingdom is very large with over 30,000 species. Growing space, time, and budgets are limited. This is why some people choose to specialize. There are cattleya specialists, pleurothallid specialists, and people who grow only fragrant orchids. It is a way for a collector to focus thoroughly on, and add to, a body of knowledge regarding, say, a single genus. On the other hand, there are super-enthusiasts like myself, who will try to grow almost any orchid species, and see our greenhouses as an important refuge for this amazing and threatened family of plants. A problem with focusing too narrowly is that you won't have year-round blooms and activity, as you would with a mixed collection. Once, we had a young visitor who was interested only in "blue" cattleyas. He walked past several rare and amazing species we had blooming at the time, and I couldn't help thinking what a pity it was that his self-imposed limitation had obscured his vision.
Shopping for orchids is supposed to be a fun experience. When I first began to grow species I had to search hard to find exciting plants to buy. Thanks to the increased interest in species, and the advancements in technology today, it is astounding what is available now. Upon receiving a company's list or catalog, I will sit down and read through the entire list putting a check mark beside each species that sounds interesting. For me this is a lot of fun, and I find it quite interesting, educational, and entertaining to compare the adjectives and superlatives that one grower uses to describe a particular species versus those of another. First, I check my own list of past purchases to see if I might have purchased that species before. I encourage everyone to start keeping their own list, which contains the following information: genus and species name, purchased from, date of purchase, cost and country of origin if known. Then, I go back and research each item by looking in my books, online, in Orchids Magazine, Awards Quarterly, or at the orchid society library. Using this information, I prioritize my wishlist.
Once you've ordered from a particular company, you'll know more or less what to expect on future orders. This will help you better strategize and allocate your annual budget for new acquisitions. Part of the enjoyment of growing species orchids is the feeling that your knowledge is increasing.
Enjoy your collection!
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