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What is Lycaste?

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  • Written By: J.M. Densing
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
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Lycaste is a genus of orchids consisting of about 30 species that come in a variety of colors and sizes. Many give off strong scents that are considered to be very pleasant. Since they are relatively easy to cultivate, Lycastes are a popular house and garden plants. These flowers have egg shaped psuedobulbs, with wide green leaves that appear to be pleated. The flower has the typical orchid formation of three inner petals and three outer sepals, and the Lycaste skinneri species is believed by many to be one of the most beautiful orchids.

The genus was named after the beautiful daughter of King Priam of Troy, Lycaste. It was first discovered by naturalist George Ure Skinner, who considered it to be the best find of his life spent searching for beautiful, rare plants, one of the species is even named after him, Lycaste skinneri. After its discovery, Skinner spent a great deal of time promoting the culture and beauty his find, popularizing it all over the world. It has been cultivated as a house plant since 1820.

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The genus is split into four groupings of orchids with similar traits that distinguish them from the other sections. The Deciduosae section is deciduous, meaning the flowers lose leaves during a period of dormancy in winter. The orchids with very long sepals are in the section Longisepalae. The Fimbriatae section usually has a fringed labellum and the petal that attracts insects and encourages pollination. The section called Macrophyllae usually keeps its leaves during the dormant period.

Lycaste orchids were originally found growing in the cloud forests of South and Central America, from Mexico down to Brazil. They are now cultivated all over the world. They thrive with humidity range of 50 to 70 percent. Ideal temperatures range between 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius) at night, with a daytime range of 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (23 to 26 degrees Celsius) — the deciduous species can tolerate an even wider range of temperatures.

Lycaste orchids are usually grown in clay pots in a fine mixture of fir bark and perlite, or sphagnum moss. They need to be watered frequently and heavily, the potting mixture should not be allowed to dry out completely. They should be fertilized on a regular basis, especially when they are producing new psuedobulbs. The orchids need plenty of bright sunlight and fresh air, and grow very well in the temperature conditions found in a typical house, making them ideal houseplants.

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