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Vol. 12(11), pp. 2-14The McAllen International Orchid Society JournalNovember 2011

A Few Brazilian Bifoliate Cattleyas

R J Ferry

There is relatively little in the popular orchid press about many of the countries of South America. Much emphasis has been accorded to the orchids of the northern countries (i.e. Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, and even Icones work from Bolivia) but beyond the monumental Orchidaceae Brasiliensis, Bands I & II of Pabst and Dungs (1975, 1977), much of South America has remained relatively ignored.

Fig. 1. Map of Brazil and surrounding countries.

Articles about Brazilian orchids tend to gloss over Brazil (Fig. 1) as though the climate and habitat for the particular orchid is just "anywhere" in Brazil. Such narratives fall far short of conveying the reality of the size and diversity of climates, habitats and even basic travel distances in this South American country. Brazil covers a great area from several miles north of the equator to well south of the tropic of Capricorn, and from not quite 30° West in the South Atlantic, to almost 75° West at its westernmost boundary. It borders virtually every other country in South America with the exception of two: Ecuador and Chile. Hence, if one is to discuss a Brazilian orchid species, or a group of orchid species from Brazil, it would be helpful to place exactly where in Brazil the species or group is found.

Two books, long out of print, do a fine job of dealing with two Brazilian orchid groups. Both volumes are scarce, but are still available now and then, and each certainly should be in every orchidist's library. They are:

Fowlie, J. A. 1970. The Genus Lycaste. Pomona, California: Day Printing Corp. 132pp.
_______. 1977. The Brazilian Bifoliate Cattleyas and Their Color Varieties. Pomona, California: Day Printing Corp. 90pp.

The Brazilian bifoliate cattleyas encompass a variety of sizes, with their unifying trait being that all exhibit a pair of leaves. Many display slim elongated pseudobulbs, but some (e.g. C. walkeriana) may be short and bulbous.

Fig. 2. Pl#140606-28. Cattleya forbesii 'Green' AM/AOS. Photo: DSC_1580; Wed-16May07.

MIOS members have long been familiar with a few of this group. Cattleya forbesii (Fig. 2) is well known for flowering profusely from April through November, and it may flower during the other months of the year.

Fig. 3. Pl#140606-35. Cattleya amethystoglossa. Photo: DSC_0629; Tues-21Mar06.

Others of this bifoliate group are less known to local MIOS members, but are certainly equally rewarding. Cattleya amethystoglossa (Fig. 3) is a large plant reaching well over a meter in height. It regularly flowers in March-April, and the red spotting on the pink flowers is passed to various of its hybrids.

Cattleya amethystoglossa was originally discovered by M. Gardner who, while traveling in Brazil, encountered the plant growing "on the stem of a tree overhanging a small stream which falls into the Rio San Francisco, beyond the Diamond district, Brazil."

In culture, the flowers normally are not long-lasting, but this may well be due to the inflorescence becoming wet as the greenhouse misting system is used. The flowers are slightly fragrant and measure about 7-8 cm across.

C. walkeriana var. bulbosa

Fig. 4. Map of South-Central Brazil (ex Fowlie 91977) p. 59. Areas in blue are of the monofoliate C. walkeriana var. bulbosa. Yellow, all bifoliate: C. ⨯dolosa, C. loddiigesii. & C. walkeriana. Photo: DSC_4383a; Mon-23Nov09.

Plants growing near diamantine, in Minas Gerais, the type locality, are monofoliate and flower from the base of the pseudobulb (Fig. 4) (blue outlines), and are epiphytic or lithophytic depending on the location. In contrast, those, from the western limits of its range where it introgresses with Cattleya loddigesii, are epiphytic, bifoliate, and flower from the apex of the pseudobulb (Fig. 4) (shaded in yellow). Thus, both species plus Cattleya ⨯dolosa (a natural hybrid of C. walkeriana and C. loddigesii frequently flower from the apex of the pseudobulb, is epiphytic, and exhibits the bifoliate habit.

As if this doesn't complicate the matter sufficiently, in nature, the monofoliate form of this species grows in two distinctly different habitats. In one habitat the plants grow epiphytically on very rough barked trees which grow in an alkaline environment on limestone bluffs, ridges and mesas, known as pedreiros in a region that's dry much of the year although the limestone of the pedreiros is able to soak up and retain a great amount of water during the rainy season. The word pedreiro is usually applied in the sense of being a quarry where limestone is mined, but the Brazilians apply it due to this region due to its limestone outcrops.

The second habitat, known as the chapada, is in south-central Brazil where the limestone was not deposited on the underlying granite. In this habitat C. walkeriana is usually found with its roots attached to the bare granite near the tops of cliffs where water flows (at times plunges!) over the cliff edges. In this habitat it's found growing lithophytically along with various cacti, succulents, and epiphyllums.

C. walkeriana var. walkeriana

Fig. 5. Cattleya walkeriana var. walkeriana. Photo: DSCN0906; Fri-24Sept04.

Cattleya walkeriana var. walkeriana (Fig. 5) is a small plant, with flowers measuring 8 to 12 cm across (3-5 inches). Baker (OrchidWiz) notes it as bearing 1-3 flowers, but in plants cultured by your editor over the years, 1 to 2 is the norm. Baker also notes that plants of C. walkeriana "commonly produce a single leaf." This seems "out of character" as this species was included by Fowlie in his volume on the Brazilian Bifoliate Cattleyas. Why? An answer is to be found in the story of where Cattleya walkeriana is found in south-central Brazil.

What's the commonality between this species growing as an epiphyte or a lithophyte, as a bifoliate and as a monofoliate, and as a species flowering from either basally from the pseudobulb or from the apex of the pseudobulb? The keys in the case of C. walkeriana are to be found in its "pure" range, and in its western range where it has introgressed with C. loddigesii as well as the habitat where the substrate is a dominant factor. In all cases, the particular demands of the moisture needed is a factor in both cases; not a soggy swampy ambience, but one where the plant's roots can spread out and ramble over the surface and yet not become "bone dry." Cattleya walkeriana presents a particularly intriguing example of a study in the interplay of geology, geography, and an ages-old interplay of a certain degree of introgression with another species.

Hybrid Note

Fig. 6. Walkerinter coerulea. Pl#210111-17; Photo: DSC_4392. Sun-20Nov11.

Fig. 7. Pl#210111-17. C. Walkerinter coerulea. Photo: DSC_4291; Sun-20Nov11.

As if to anticipate questions concerning hybridization, as this article was being written a cursory look-around in the greenhouse disclosed a hybrid of C. walkeriana flowering for the first time! Cattleya intermedia coerulea 'Blue Lip' was crossed with C. walkerinter 'Monte Azul' AM/AOS. The resulting offspring was named C. Walkerinter coerulea (Fig. 6). One interesting point is that the plant is bifoliate, but the flower is arising from the apex of a monofoliate leaf. We will have to wait to see whether this somewhat curious trait persists, but at least for the present the plant is quite robust and is putting out two sturdy new vegetative growths (Fig. 7). The plant has already nearly filled the 6-inch pot so some planning is in order quite soon regarding whether to employ a larger pot or look to mount it on a tree fern plaque similar to C. walkeriana var. bulbosa.

C. walkeriana var. bulbosa, Background and Culture

Your editor received this present clone of C. walkeriana var. bulbosa from the late Wayne Horstman who had grown it as a potted plant. When received in March of 2004, it was taken from the clay pot and transferred to a lattice basket. It flowered in the spring of that year, and appeared to be doing well. However, in the spring of 2006 it was discovered to be infected with scale. Obviously some drastic action was in order!

The plant was removed from the lattice basket, the potting mix discarded, the basket disinfected, and the plant was dipped in a Malathaion solution and scrubbed thoroughly yet as gently as possible with a brush. Smaller hard-to-get-to places were cleaned with a gentle-brush toothbrush. As the plant was de-basketed, it was noted that the roots had been inclined to ramble, but not bore deeply into the potting substrate, so the plant was merely laid on a tree fern plaque that had been padded with clean new Zealand Sphagnum moss. The plant was then overlaid (dusted) with a little more Sphagnum, and in order to disturb it as little as possible, the tree fern plaque was laid on a larger wire mesh and was hung near the greenhouse's large plant of Vanilla planifolia which received frequent mistings. The plant was monitored to see whether any scale would reappear, but evidently the disinfecting treatment did its job and the plant continued to put out new growths and flowers. The plant note on Mon-07Nov11 observed that it had done well. It had overgrown the tree fern in two places and was bearing five flowering growths, four of which were in bud and the fifth had two flowers open. Obviously it was time to either install the entire plant mass on a larger platform or consider removing and remounting a couple of the growths overgrowing the tree fern.

Fig. 8. Pl#080304-5. Cattleya walkeriana var. bulbosa. Photo: DSC_3334; Mon-23Nov09.

This species (Fig. 8) has done well as a potted (or basketed) plant, and in recent years has done very well simply growing on a horizontally held tree fern plaque. Your editor has been reluctant to experiment with it as a lithophyte until the problem of a nearly omnipresent supply of water and misting is available. However, with the watering/misting problem solved, would it do better on granite or on a slab of limestone? Those questions remain to be addressed with the answers obtained after a few years of trial-and-error culture!

The Cattleya walkeriana Outlook

No plants of C. walkeriana appear to be readily available commercially, so rather than keep all proverbial eggs on a single tree fern plaque, two overgrowing plant leads were detached for distribution to a couple of MIOS members in early December, 2011 giving them part of the Wayne Horstman-Ferry legacy.

There's still another facet to consider. The mother plant is bearing several flowers, and a sib-crossing was made Sat-19Nov11. Time will tell whether the man-made pollinations are successful.

A Few More Large Brazilian bifoliates

Heretofore, with the exception of a note about Cattleya amethystoglossa earlier in the article, the focus has been on the smaller forms and hybrids of C. walkeriana. However some notable work was done with some of the larger Brazilian Cattleya species back in the 19th century heyday of orchid history, with a few of the results remaining until the present.

Fig. 9. Pl#140606-2. Cattleya tigrina var. alba. Photo: DSC_1702a; Sat-30Jun07.

Early on, and for nearly a century, confusion reigned regarding the correct name for one particular species. The specific epithets of guttata, tigrina, guttata var. tigrina, and leopoldii were bandied about well past the 1990's and --to some degree-- even into the present century! In fact Pl#140606-2 and 140606-3 entered your editor's collection misnamed in June of 2006 as the firm of Stewart's Orchids closed! One (Pl#140606-2) was tagged C. leopoldii var. alba and the other plant had three highly unlikely hybrid names attached. Species of C. tigrina may be quite variable as to color! Flowers may be a waxy brownish-ruby overlaid with reddish pin spots to the somewhat rare form known as "var. alba" in which the sepals and petals may be a shade of apple-green with the labellum a pristine white (Fig. 9). This plant may reach 60 cm (2 ft) high with a fragrant inflorescence held well above its bifoliate leaves.

Now it appears the dust has settled and not only the authorities at the Royal Gardens at Kew (England), but orchidists worldwide are in agreement on the name of Cattleya tigrina, so we'll use that name. For the less-than-fully-professional orchidist C. tigrina hails from the coastal swamps south of Rio de Janeiro. It is known from sea level to very rarely over 400 feet elevation. In the northern hemisphere it flowers in the spring or early summer (end of May and into June) from a green sheath. C. guttata, on the other hand, flowers in the late summer or early autumn from a dried sheath. Both species usually have spotted flowers and a bright fuchsia midlobe of the labellum, so don't be misled by mere colors! Cattleya tigrina, while not small, does not attain the over-a-meter height of C. amethystoglossa.

Fig. 10. C. Hybrida (C. guttataC. loddigesii). Photo: DSC_1697; Sat-30Jun07.

Cattleya Hybrida (Fig. 10) was recorded by Veitch in 1859, and he listed its parents as C. guttataC. loddigesii. In the mid-1800's, the rules of orchid registration were just beginning to be codified, and in 1863 Veitch also gave the same Cattleya Hybrida name to the progeny of C. aclandiaeC. loddigesii.

Fig. 11. Pl#xx0768. C. guttata leopoldii. Digital scan #xx0768-16. Scan: Wed-23Nov11. (35mm transparency:Lager & Hurrell Archives)

At this point, your editor introduces a puzzler. It's from the color transparency files of the extinct firm of Lager & Hurrell (Fig. 11) and the name given with the figure is the one that's penned on the original transparency. Is the correct name of this plant C. guttata, or should this one's name be revised to C. tigrina? No green or dry sheath is visible in any of the several color transparencies of anything that might be "nailed down" as to the current name of either Cattleya tigrina or Cattleya guttata. What one really needs is to either have mature plants of both species with confirmed identities and observe and record data for each for at least a year. Short of that, one may find at least a clue or two by perusing the literature.

In the AOS Orchids magazine of April, 2008, Alek Zaslawski wrote a back-to-back pair of articles on Cattleya guttata, which your editor recommends MIOS members read. Local MIOS members may secure a copy from the society's library. Zaslawski notes that C. tigrina is the accepted name by Kew, but in his article, he prefers to use the term C. leopoldii instead. No matter: all it takes is to translate "C. leopoldii" into C. tigrina as you read. Briefly, as Zaslawski compares and contrasts the two species as follows:

Table 1.

C. guttataC. leopoldii (tigrina)Remarks
Lip smaller, narrowerLip largerno specific dimensions given
Fls: Mid-MarchNov-DecThis is in southern hemisphere!
Fls Jul-Aug-SeptJul-Augnorthern hemisphere, Baker's data1
Fls with sheath dryfls with sheath greenObserve and record this data!!
Sea level to 300 musually grows below 100 msee 2 below
Day fragrantnot mentioned-
Warm-hot growerassumed to be same-

1 This is data from Baker in OrchidWiz. Under culture, flowering is recorded for C. guttata as: Mar-3, Apr-1, May-1, Jun-7, Jul-17, Aug-14, Sept-9, Oct-0, Nov-1, & Dec-1. For C. tigrina under culture, flowering is recorded as: Mar-3, Apr-1, May-1, Jun-7, July-17, Aug-14, Sept-9, Oct-0, Nov-1 & Dec-1.

2 Both species are found in the same area, but C. guttata spreads further inland and is reported at higher elevations.

Habitat Data, C. guttata

Zaslawski describes the restinga habitat of C. guttata as "shrubs, bushes, cacti thriving in nutrient-poor beach sand:,... and plants growing in sand, near the sea." With the exception of lower temperatures during the winter season, his description appears to be remarkably similar to South Padre Island of deep south Texas! Inland, in the river basins, where temperatures are warmer due to the low altitude and higher humidity, C. guttata is found growing on trees while within the Atlantic rainforest, he reports that C. guttata is even found growing on rocks.

Obviously C. guttata is not particular about its substrate as long as the temperatures and water/humidity levels are comfortable, but it would be nice for such habitat reports to specify what tree species are and are not utilized, and when the plants are found growing on rocks, what particular composition of rocks appear to be preferred, and what types seem to be avoided.

Seed Capsule Data

For C. guttata, Zaslawski reports the seed capsules "usually open five months after pollination. However, we usually sow them within four months, before they open." Assuming 30 day months, would make complete pollinating-to-dehiscing time of 120 days. Cutting that to four months is apparently effective for Zaslawski, but it seems a little severe. For most species, 90% of the total ripening time is considered optimum for "green capsule" sowing. Your editor would suggest that at least 100 days might well be better.

For the Cattleya tigrina plant in your editor's collection, the time from the day of placing the pollen to the capsule dehiscing (capsule open 2 mm) was recorded as 112 days.

Fertilizing Data

Zaslawski recommends the applying 20-10-20 or 20-20-20 fertilizer weekly while the plants are in active growth, and once every two weeks while the plant is "resting." However, he does not note the strength of the fertilizing solution so presumably that is left up to the grower.

For fertilizing all plants in the greenhouse by means of the misting system's lines or hand-watering individually with a wand, your editor adds 16 ounces (one full pint) of 20-10-20 to his 100 gallon fertilizer tank and generally fertilizes everything in the greenhouse every 10-11 days. For plants that are particularly heavy feeders (e.g. specimens plants of Lc. Molly Tyler, Pot. Afternoon Delight, the Vanilla planifolia vine, large pseudobulbed and large, heavy leafed cymbidiums) an additional hand-sprayed fertilizing at least every six or seven days, has had good results. Of course these schedules are affected to some degree by the weather. If the weather is hot and requires more watering, the fertilizing schedule is "stepped up," but if the weatherman serves up 2-3 weeks of very cold weather which results in the greenhouse temperatures ranging from barely 60° F (15+° C.), the fertilizing schedule is put on hold. One "fact-of-life" is that the plants will not really uptake much fertilizer with ambient temperatures much below 75° F (+24° C), so while spraying fertilizer-enriched water may be good therapy for the orchid grower, experience has shown it really doesn't do wonders for the plants.


Without a doubt, Alek Zasklawski's article on C. guttata is excellent. However, inasmuch as C. guttata and C. tigrina (leopoldii) are allopatric and some degree of confusion exists in clearly identifying one from the other, it would be particularly commendable to see greater elaboration in comparing and contrasting these two species. In some respects, your editor feels left with about as many questions regarding these two species as when he started, and he is drawn back to the conclusion that definitive answers will probably not be obtained until he has secured a few plants of each species and worked with them clinically for several months,...even a few years. Such remarks may sound a bit pessimistic, but that sort of work and study is part and parcel of orchid studies and orchid growing!

Cattleya maxima Lindl., Gen. Sp. Orchid. Pl.: 116 (1833).

One last bifoliate Cattleya remains for review in this issue. Not only is it not a Brazilian, it's a "northerner" hailing from Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela, clear across the northern expanse of South America.

Cattleya maxima, has the common name of "The Greatest Cattleya," with "greatest" not necessarily having the connotation of being the "best", in terms of beauty, but simply as having the largest flowers of the group, at least at the time it was described by Lindley in 1833. The blooms are fragrant and long-lasting, and generally measure about 13 cm (5 inches) across the petals. As with Cattleya walkeriana earlier in this article, there are actually two forms of this species: the upland and the lowland forms. The species was originally discovered in the hot humid lowlands around Guayaquil, Ecuador. Since that original discovery, it was found at high elevations in northern Peru and southern Colombia. Sometime later, it was also discovered in Venezuela.

The upland form

Fig. 12. Pl#050904-1. Cattleya maxima, the upland form. Photo: DSC_4405; Thur-24Nov11.

The upland form (Fig. 12) generally bears 3 to 5 flowers; much fewer than the lowland form, but flowers of upland plants generally are considered to have better form, displaying darker and more vivid shades of lavender.

Although upland plants are native to cooler temperatures (1000-2000 m; 3300-6550 ft.), the upland specimen in your editor's greenhouse has withstood the summer's heat of 42+° C. (102-105° F.) without any apparent ill effects. Of course it has been maintained under shade cloth which cuts the sun's intensity down to 72% of the direct summer intensity, and the plant is potted in a round 12-14-inch diameter tree fern pot which has provided it with excellent drainage. Repotting problems may be encountered as the plant is well-rooted throughout this container, and is presently approaching the edge of its tree fern pot, but that problem will be addressed when repotting time comes. The specimen is holding one inflorescence of two buds and another of three. As this is written, all are expected to be open within a few days.

The lowland form

Fig. 13. Cattleya maxima 'Dynasty', the lowland form. Photo: Mauro Rosim (OrchidWiz); Brazil.

Lowland form plants may bear as many as twelve to fifteen flowers on an inflorescence, but the downside to this is that (Fig. 13), the flowers tend to be somewhat floppy and may range from white to pink with the labellum bearing dark pink or a dark yellow veining. Although theoretically the lowland plants should be much more heat tolerant than the upland forms, does not appear to have been the case with the upland form specimen in your editor's collection.

Cultivation and Propagation

In cultivation, Cattleya maxima has been recorded as flowering virtually every month in the year with the exception of March. Its peak flowering months are September through November, with considerable lesser frequency in August and December. C. maxima is not a plant for shaded conditions such as are appropriate for members of Paphiopedilum, Phalaenopsis and Phragmipedium, but nor is it one of the "all the light short of burning" (such as Brassavola nodosa and other terete leafed species). Three thousand foot candles of light suits it fine, but your editor as measured light levels between 2500 and 3500 in locations it has done quite well. Likewise, it's not recommended to culture it much below 50° F. (10° C.), but the plant in your editor's greenhouse has seen the temperature range from a little over 40° F. (+5° C.) to this last summer's heat of 104° F. (42° C.). Of course the old rules of having it "dried off" when it's going to experience very low temperatures, and having the humidity and watering increased during the very high temperatures applies. Peak flowering months for C. maxima are normally July, September, and October, but with this last summer's heat, the specimen in the greenhouse is in full flower in mid-late November in 2011. For a first-hand evaluation of how well these cultural tips might apply, the plant in your editor's greenhouse, and the date it was photographed should validate the advice given (front cover).

For a species described in 1833, C. maxima has been used relatively little in hybridization. The OrchidWiz records 68 F1 offspring, several of which were done between 1884 and 1897 although a cross with C. intermedia was recorded by Exeter as early as 1859. After spending some time studying the background on C. walkeriana, it has been a little interesting for this editor to discover that no hybrid of C. maxima with C. walkeriana appears to ever have been registered. One problem that might result from attempting such a cross would be the size differences in the two flowers. One would anticipate little difficulty using C. maxima as a pollen parent with C. walkeriana, but the pollen tubules of C. walkeriana might not grow to a length sufficient to fully fertilize all the embryos in the ovary of C. maxima. In any event, very few offspring have been registered to the 68 F1 progeny of C. maxima, and of all of the F1 progeny registered, only one awarded plant has been recorded, which tends to give a good idea of what general opinions have been regarding crosses using this species.


The seed capsule ripening time for C. maxima is listed at 240 to 270 days. No seed capsule ripening time is recorded for C. walkeriana, but C. forbesii shows a green pod harvest time of 217 days which would indicate about 240 days for C. forbesii, and C. walkeriana would probably not greatly differ. From these data, it appears that the seed capsule of a cross of C. walkeriana and C. maxima would require from eight to ten months to mature on the mother plant. If such a hybridization experiment is seriously contemplated, it soon becomes obvious it would require planning for a long-term operation.

Copyright © 2011 R J Ferry