Friday, January 11, 2019

My Year of Orchids: First glimmer of epiphytes

My first forays into epiphytic plants were at the local nurseries, which were sadly understocked. They were so uninspiring I actually left empty handed. I still hadn’t heard of the amazing Selby Botanical Garden in Sarasota. Nor was I aware of the extensive nurseries just north of there near Bradenton, with their acres and acres of orchids, succulents, and bromeliads. That was a wonderful discovery waiting to happen, and like all wonderful discoveries, all the better to have been postponed. The Lowe’s near my house had a better garden shop then most of the nurseries. And I bought myself a few bromeliads there. I have to admit that it was bromeliads before orchids that caught my attention. There are some houses close by my neighborhood on the Pink Streets that have landscapes with bromeliads of every shape and size. They are unmistakably “tropical,” whereas my native garden, even with its nineteen Sabal Palms, looks more like a jungle than a tropical paradise.

The more I started playing in my jungle garden the more my hunger for epiphytes grew. And this corner of Saint Petersburg being pretty tropical I looked up online where I could buy tropical orchids. Kathy, who I call my “dealer,“ is in Hawaii and my first shipment of orchids came from her. I never looked back after that.

That first box of orchids came beautifully protected and the plants were gorgeous. Succulent, emerald green, full of well developed roots. I unwrapped them and as quick as I could, thinking they needed to get RIght Out into nature, trussed them up in tree crotches or on branches with layers of sphagnum and coir. I hid the roots in the substrate or stuffed them into semi loose boots of my sabal palms, not knowing that orchid roots want to be free! It was my first huge mistake.

It was late July and the heat was on full blast. There was rain most of the afternoons and mornings were hot and humid. Not humid enough for my babies. I had a feeling they were stressed so I got out there every morning, early like just at dawn, and sprayed. Seems like I kept misting them all day. Again at nine, somewhere around noon, and later still in the afternoon. One of them I nearly cooked, Tolumnia sylvestris, still in its pot in the semi shade of the sea grapes, which lost a lot of foliage but bravely and generously sent up three flowering spikes. It’s much happier just stuck in a bush now, regrowing its luscious root system and regaining its strength.

I had mixed luck with Encyclia tampensis, a Florida native, which came to me in bloom. I “mounted” it on a piece of rotting wood and shoved it into a space between a thin tree trunk and a trimmed off branch. The flowers croaked soon after. And I had broken one leaf in my haste (it’s still holding on six months later doing its photosynthetic thing). But it wasn’t until much later that I read 1) orchids don’t like rotting wood. In nature they establish on living wood and 2) E. tampensis is susceptible to rot. Last thing I should have done was pair it up with decomposing wood.

I found that no matter how much you read the orchid knowledge comes by dribs and drabs, incrementally as you experience all the processes in the garden. Once you become satisfied with this slow simmer of knowledge you also satisfy yourself with the slow “progress” of orchids that have landed in your care. Here, patience is truly its own reward.

Back to Encyclia tampensis. When things started to look a little less healthy (pseudobulbs were getting thinner, color had changed from vibrant to not so vibrant) I slipped that wood out of the mount, went on to keep a close eye on the plant, and watched for signs of rot (it starts as a black circle but I’ve found it to be reversible). I kept misting to keep those pseudobulbs full. I let the roots hang down at the sides. But it wasn’t until I started fertilizing, which I had thought I’d never do, that I saw new root growth! I was starting very slowly to learn.

No comments:

Post a Comment