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What Is a Cattleya Orchid?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 13 April 2014
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A Cattleya orchid is an orchid in the genus Cattleya, including orchids found in nature and hybrids produced by orchid growers searching for the perfect flower. This large and diverse orchid genus is one of the most famous, and when many people hear the word “orchid,” what comes to mind is often a Cattleya orchid, even if they aren't aware of it. While these orchids can be a bit finicky, they are relatively easy to care for, and they can be surprisingly durable and resilient; some of the first European specimens came from orchids used as packing material which were revived by gardeners!

Labiate Cattleya orchids have a single leaf and several large flowers, while bifolate orchids have two leaves, and a cluster of small flowers which grow in a bunch. Both types of Cattleya orchid come in a range of colors thanks to hybridization. These orchids are sometimes referred to as “corsage orchids,” reflecting the fact that they are ideally suited to making corsages and other flower arrangements.

This genus has over 40 species, native to Central and Southern America. Cattleya orchids prefer temperate to warm weather which forces people in areas outside the tropics to grow their orchids indoors or in a climate-controlled greenhouse. When grown indoors as houseplants, Cattleya orchids must be handled carefully and they will start to wither in cold weather or inadequate humidity.

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Orchids are epiphytes, which means that they have adapted to grow out of the soil. It is important to use an appropriate potting medium for a Cattleya orchid, such as an orchid mix. Regular soil holds moisture too well, and can cause the roots to rot. The roots also need to be periodically broken up and repotted, frequently around every two years. Cattleya orchids also benefit from fertilization with an orchid food.

While people may think of the tropics as hot and sunny, the Cattleya orchids are actually adapted to live in bright, but indirect light, not full sun. Indoor growers must be careful to keep their plants out of sunny windows, using a grow light if indoor conditions are not bright enough. Outdoor growers should position their orchids carefully to ensure that they do not get too much direct light. These orchids also require humidity, which can be accomplished by growing in a greenhouse, using a humidifier in an area where orchids are grown, or periodically spraying the air around the orchids.

Signs that a Cattleya orchid is not doing well include yellowing, browning, or spotting of the leaves, failure to produce flowers, or obvious darkening and rotting of the stems. If the leaves get droopy or withered, this is also a sign that the orchid is unhappy.

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