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|Vol. 7(1), pp. 6-7||The McAllen International Orchid Society Journal||January 2006|
Known from Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama, this one is definitely a "tropical!" Considering its native countries, it would be wise to not let this species see temperatures below about 8° C. (45-46° F.), and those temperatures only briefly. Actually, to do really well with gongoras, that lowest temperature limit should be closer to 15° C. (58° F.). Remember: its native countries don't have "hot-cold" summer and winter seasons as are known in the temperate regions of both hemispheres. They tend to see a "wet-dry" cycle, but in Panama it can rain pretty much any time of the year. Particularly for these orchids, the "low" temperatures shouldn't be very low, with the "highs" accompanied with high humidity levels, and breezy air movement
Gongoras are generally said to flower in summer or fall, but actually their flowering cycle depends more on the wet-dry cycle afforded the plant. As the first green, pencil-like vegetative growths emerge, the plant will want to be in its "wet" season. This season continues as the large plicate leaves form and spread and the basal pseudobulbs are plump. As these growths mature, the drier climate cycle commences, the sugars within the pseudobulbs begin to coalesce, and the plant's flowering cycle is initiated.
Fig. 1. Gongora armeniaca (Ldl.) Rchb. f. DSC_0380.jpg 01 Dec., 2005.
Gongora armeniaca commonly flowers in June-July and November-December, but the plant presently in your editor's greenhouse was in flower in November, and now has a fourth inflorescence (the first three have faded) on the way. In more than one place, it's noted in the literature that "the flowers are of exceedingly complex structure, in many cases almost impossible to describe!" Note the single flower (somewhat larger than life-size) above (Fig. 1). The sepals and petals are held backward, well out of the way, and the labellum is above the column. The male euglossine bee, searching for fragrance with which to make himself more desirable to the female bee, has to enter upside down into the labellum, and--as he exits--the pollen is deposited on his thorax. Floral colors in G. armeniaca may be apricot-orange, yellow, or salmon color, and all are pleasantly fragrant. G. armeniaca var. bicornuta form differs from the typical one shown above) in that its epichile's apex has two short lateral horns, a conspicuously elongated rostellum, and rich dark red petals.
Gongoras, like stanhopeas direct their inflorescences downward, so they should be cultured in hanging baskets (exception: S. martiana), but gongoras--although they're close relatives of the stanhopeas--are more conventional. The inflorescence erupts upward from the base of the pseudobulb and grows outward until its weight causes it to first arch and then bear the flowers pedulously. Hence gongoras may be grown in hanging pots. As the inflorescence grows, care needs to be exercised with watering. Water (particularly cold water!) can cause premature bud drop.
Fig. 2. Gongora armeniaca Rchb. f. 1854. DSC_0379a.jpg 01 December, 2005.
Although this species hails from Panama, where the "wet season" may see some dry days and the "dry season" may see some wet ones, the plant prefers to be in a "more dry" cycle as it approaches flowering. Inflorescences of Gongora armeniaca tend to arch downward to about 12-25 cm. total length, but don't count on short inflorescences with other members of the genus. Plants of G. quinquinervis and others have been seen with pendent inflorescences of nearly a meter long! Also, while Gongora armeniaca is a smaller plant with shorter inflorescences, and flowers at least twice a year, G. maculata can become a much larger plant with much longer inflorescences, and may well flower all year long! A well-grown Gongora species can make a striking display in the greenhouse. It can be packed gently and displayed at the orchid meeting or in the home, but the flowers probably will do better and last longer if the plant's enjoyed in its flowering location (Fig. 2). This is all the more reason to (a) have a good-sized greenhouse; and (b) spend time in it!
In nature, gongoras are generally found growing on trees, rock outcroppings or on steep hillsides where the inflorescence can hang. References are silent as to the composition of the type rock they prefer, but one suspects a likely substrate would be a Cretaceous limestone substrate with water draining over it, or a firm-based granite. For your editor, gongoras have grown well in all the mixes or mount-strata in/on which they've been housed. They're warm growers, have unusual-looking flowers, and are fragrant, so...take your pick!
Pridgeon, A., ed. 1997. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Orchids. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press. 304pp.
Williams, L. O., and Paul H. Allen. 1980. Orchids of Panama. St. Louis: The Missouri Botanical Garden. 589pp.