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What is Laelia?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Images By: n/a, Photorebelle
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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Laelia is a genus of orchid native to Central and South America, with the largest concentration of species in Mexico. It is one of the most important orchid genera horticulturally, because the flowers are beautiful and the plants are relatively easy to grow. The genera was possibly named after women of the ancient Roman elite family of Laelius.

Laelia orchids are pink to purple, with a purple and white lip or labellum, a specialized tubular petal that attracts insect pollinators and serves as a landing pad for them. The petals of many species have a curly appearance. Some species have a rare and highly prized albino variety.

Most Laelia species grow on other plants, such as trees, though a few, such as L. anceps, grow on rocks. There are many Laelia subspecies and hybrids, particularly with the closely related Cattleya, Brassavola, and Sophronitis orchids. Laelia orchids bloom in either the fall or the spring.

While plants of this genera are generally easy to grow, their ideal conditions vary based on their natural habitat. Many species are very resistant to drought. Many also grow in rain forests, where they experience hot, humid summers and cool, dry winters. L. albida, L. anceps, L. autumnalis, and L. speciosa all grow at higher elevations and cooler temperatures.

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L. albida is the northernmost growing Laelia species in Mexico. It features tiny, light pink blossoms and is very cold tolerant, but must be kept dry during the winter. L. albida blooms in late winter to early spring, and is best grown on cork or hardwood rather than planted in soil.

L. speciosa, also called the Mayflower orchid, is another species native to Mexico. It features fragrant, lavender flowers that bloom in the summer to fall, and a large white labellum with purple spots. The Mayflower orchid also has an albino, or Alba, variety. L. speciosa is resistant to drought and tolerates cool to warm temperatures.

Many Laelia species native to South America are now classified as Sophronitis instead, though the designation remains controversial, and some growers have not accepted the change. It is common to see Sophronitis plants still referred to as Laelia. One such plant is the L. purpurata or S. purpurata, native to Brazil. L. purpurata features fragrant, pale flowers with a pink striped labellum. The plant prefers bright light and cool to warm temperatures, and blooms from late spring to fall.

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