Saturday, February 9, 2019

My Year of Orchids: All systems go

It’s been a bit of a rocky road with my Sobralia, a terrestrial orchid that needs to be planted in soil. This particular one also needs kind of shady conditions according to the grower. It came to me in great shape. I especially loved the sort purple hairs at the base of the stem and along the leaves, which is reflected in its species name, “atropubescens.”

I put it lovingly in a slatted basket with mostly soil in a place among the sea grapes where a nice morning sun lit up the purple hairs and shone through the thin leaves. Maybe the slatted basket was a mistake and maybe I was wrong to mist the leaves, because they started to go brown at the edges and finally die. 

Sobralias are not supposed to be particularly fussy so I knew I must be doing something wrong. I gingerly took it out of the basket and planted in real soil in an urn where I could watch it carefully. I planted it with a nice trailing Pilea that made the whole setup look gracefully sculptural. Sometimes the plants know when you are prettying them up and they respond. That’s science. 

I had read that Sobralias like to drink and I figured with this kind of leaves it might like my home brewed fertilizer liquid. Smelly but gives nice results. When I transplanted I did notice that the roots looked happy so that was a good sign. I fed those roots (and not the leaves) every day with my concoction. After a few weeks a new stem popped up out of the soil. A good sign but I had the feeling we weren’t out of the water yet. 

Then today a sign from the garden goddess as I did my pre-watering rounds (it was a cool dewy morning so no rush to start misting). At the tips of Sobralia’s leaves I observed drops of water, the signal feature of guttation. Guttation in plants happens when the immediate atmosphere is humid. It’s the result of a healthy water column reaching from the roots through xylem cells of the stem and into the leaves. Reverse pressure upward from the roots forces the water out of pores on the leaf. When you see guttation you know you have a happy plant and a well-functioning vascular system. Sobraila is good in its new place, ready to thrive. Now it’s all systems go. 

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