Monday, March 28, 2011

Some handy sites - Blotanical, Orchid Board & folia.

I've spent a fair amount of free time lately drifting around the "orchid interwebs". You'll notice some links and widgets in my sidebar to the right. I thought I'd highlight what I particularly like about three of these which other bloggers (and non-bloggers alike) should find interesting. Two of these sites are great, even if you don't like orchids (gasp!).

First up,, "where garden blogs bloom".
Blotanical is a community of blogs which aims to share your "gardening" blog with what should be an interested community of fellow bloggers and blog-readers. Blotanical is nice to "newbie" users in that it promotes the newest blogs for a period of time (basically the 100 newest blogs); in theory, this gives your blog some time in the "limelight" to attact the interest of the rest of the users. I think it also slightly "weights" your blog in some of the other rankings too.

Like most community/social sites, you get out what you put in; if you're not interacting with other members and their blogs, you're unlikely to become popular on the site - there are a few fellow orchid maniacs on the site - active amongst them are klaraau01 (My Orchids Journal), makarimi (Orchid de Dangau) and MM (Essence of Stanhopea). Whilst true gardeners are the focus of the site (and the majority of its users), specialised plant growers and indoor/balcony gardeners are also there. The community as a whole is quite welcoming of fellow plant enthusiasts - whatever their particular plant passion might be.

You'll spend quite a bit of time "picking" posts - blotanical's "favourite"/rating system, as well as messaging other users. It's important you do this when you first join in order to build your profile and become part of the community - and of course to carry on doing this over time! Blotanical also gives you an opportunity to see who has been "picking" your posts - handy to find users who also share your interests. You'll also find a lot of blotanical users commenting on your blog too.

You can of course search the site and its blogs, but you'll probably find it more interesting to browse geographically and find other users near you.

The only thing I find a huge drawback to the site is that it really breaks multi-tabbed browsing; if you try and visit a lot of different "plots" (blotanical's user profiles) or blogs within blotanical in many different tabs, it ultimately ends up setting all of them to the last one you happened to click on. I'm a big fan of opening a bunch of tabs, and letting them load whilst I get on with reading something else. With blotanical, you're best off interacting with the entire site through just one tab. Using blotanical is a bit like growing plants from seed - there's quite a lot of waiting involved. :) A futher slight niggle is that to get to your own "plot" if you've moved off it to another (which you inevitably will as "plots" are pretty key to the whole thing), you have to click on the currently active plot and then "return to my plot" - I think your own "plot" should always be in the navigation as a single click location.

On the whole, the navigation is a little unusual - I received many messages from members commenting on posts and then telling me to give them a shout if I got stuck on the site or couldn't figure it out - clearly it's not all that intuitive to end users, so the developers might like to consider looking into that. If you do get stuck, try the helpful FAQ section, or message an active user; when you sign up, someone is usually assigned to help you out, so you'll find a message from them in your messages - they'll be more than happy to guide you through anything you get stuck with!

Don't worry too much about the navigation niggles I've just mentioned - it's certainly interesting to see how gardeners around the world are blogging their various experiences; give it a visit some time, particularly if you want to read more about plants and gardens and take your plant-related blog to more readers (who doesn't!?).

You can find Orchids on a Balcony here on

I was actually told about blotanical by a user from the next site in the list... 

Orchid Board, "Most complete orchid forum on the web"

Orchid Board is an extremely friendly and welcoming community for an online forum. I'm sure that many of you who have been online for any length of time have witnessed the amount of flame-wars and trolling that goes on in many forums online. Orchid Board is remarkably free of this; I think it's largely down to the moderation team who do a good job, the existing community of users - and perhaps orchid people are just more level-headed than the average internet denizen?

User questions are answered quite quickly, and surprisingly you rarely get answers from existing users along the lines of "search function, learn how to use it" - instead, no matter how many times someone has asked Help!!!!1 My Phalaenopsis is Dying!!1!! someone will take the time to answer that query, perhaps with some reference to earlier threads, but never in a condescending manner or one that indicates the poster is an idiot who can't use a search function.

Of course, the forums have advanced users too, so you'll see plenty of topics that expand your knowledge of orchid culture and related subjects. Several orchid vendors and people with a vast knowledge of orchid culture regularly read the board and share their knowledge.

The board also has group growing "projects", where members vote on plants they would like to try their hand at growing, and where members share their growing experience with that species over time - a group learning exercise, or global e-learning evening class if you like! Another feature that might be of interest is the monthly photo contests, with both beginner and advanced categories.

One feature that brings me great joy is that users can immediately mark another user as a spambot when you notice one has invaded the system - this helps prevent the whole forum being over-run with rubbish and a huge clean-up job. You can also of course report posts to moderators, but the warning system puts an immediate posting ban on such users whilst the moderation team has a chance to review that user's behaviour.

If you're looking for an online community of orchid nuts (seed pods?) this is probably the one to join. There are of course others, but this does seem to be the most active and friendly of them. If you're looking for me, here's my profile.

Finally, we have folia, "Social garden tracker and organiser"

Folia can best be summed up as "facebook for gardeners"; if you're not blogging at the moment (and don't intend to start) this is probably the best place your can go to start your experiments in online social gardening - it's a pretty handy site even if you do have a blog. The site lets you keep journals of all your plants and how they're getting along, lets you build a wiki which adds to the knowledge of each and every plant on the site and of course share photos of your pride and joy.

Folia needs a number of users in your area before it really starts to come into it's own - for example, if you've got a lot of keen vegetable gardeners near you who are folia users, you'll find the site gives you regular suggestions of what you should be planting and harvesting at various times of the year.

An even more interesting feature is the "swap" functionality, where users are able to send each other spare seed/plant material they happen to have on hand. Just make sure you know what your local (and perhaps international) laws might be before you make use of it.

Should you get confused, there is an excellent help section - and if you get really stuck, the developers are friendly and helpful and pretty quick to respond considering the site is something they do in their spare time! Have a look at their tour (or just sign up and jump in). It certainly doesn't hurt that the whole site feels fresh and modern with a light, attractive colour scheme and sensible navigation. Web 2.0 hits the gardening world! You can find me here.

Now all they need to do is start pulling in blog feeds, and it'll be perfect...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rhynchostylis coelestis in bloom

Our Rhynchostylis coelestis has opened it's blooms! We bought this plant at the Exotic Plant Company in Franschhoek during our holiday in Dec/Jan - OOAB's Senior Management liked the look of this plant perched in a basket with roots dangling out and crazy spiky leaves. I googled it on my phone, decided the flowers looked quite nice and it came home with us, suspended behind the headrest of the driver's seat!

We've been watching the slow growth of it's flower spike - and then spikes - with interest over the past few weeks. It's finally put on a good show, so I thought I'd share the flowers with you all.

Rhynchostylis coelestis
Close-up on spike

Rhynchostylis coelestis
Most of the spike in bloom!
Rhynchostylis coelestis
I tried some backlighting; I quite like the result.
A recent thread on Orchid Board asked why we always photograph orchids in such "boring" light!
Well, here's an experiment :)
Make sure you view full size.
Rhyncostylis coelestis
Close-up of flower
Rhyncostylis coelestis
Side view of flower - not something you see often!
Rhyncostylis coelestis
View down the flower spike.
Rhynchostylis coelestis
Two spikes!
As always, you can click on the pictures for larger size versions - it's worth the few seconds wait to see the full detail. Photos taken with 2 flashes, 100mm Canon macro lens at f32 1/60th second exposures - total flash lighting.

I've tried having a deep sniff of these flowers for two mornings in a row; the over-riding impression my nose gets is a slightly sweet, very "waxy" crayon-like smell. OrchidWeb considers their flowers to have a grape-like scent. I don't smell that at all! I keep forgetting to sniff it in the evening to see if there's a change; many orchids change the amount of scent they produce over the day/night cycle; our Zygopetalum and Lycaste for example are very fragrant in the morning, but hardly have a scent at night.

According to IOSPE, these plants are found across Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia from sea level to 700m altitude in deciduous to semi-deciduous forests.

Rhynchostylis has been quite commonly used in hybridising programmes to reduce the size of various vandaceous species. For those that aren't too familiar with orchids, Vanda often produce huge flowers several inches across - but the plants can be several feet long, which is a bit unwieldy! Ascocentrum and Neofinetia have also been used for this. For example, Vascostylis includes Ascocentrum, Vanda and Rhynchostylis; Darwinara combines all four (Ascocentrum, Vanda, Neofinetia and Rhynchostylis); you can find more examples here.

We care for ours by misting the roots once or twice a day with RO water, and soaking it in a fairly weak solution of fertiliser about once a month for 15-20 minutes. An oscillating fan regularly blows across it on a low setting. We had a bit of a problem with a fungal/bacterial infection a while back, but we chopped off the affected leaves and stopped misting the whole plant, and it's been fine since. I suspect it would be happy with a more regular fertiliser treatment! There are quite a lot of new roots growing at the moment. As with all bare-rooted orchids, you have to watch out that you keep up your watering schedule, or they will suffer. I'm becoming increasingly fond of basket/mounted plants - I am a compulsive waterer, and mounting orchids is not only somewhat more natural, it also tends to avoid problems with root rot and the like in the hands of those that like to sprinkle their plants! Suggested light levels are 2,000-4,000 foot candles - a bit brighter than where we have it, I'm sure, so I might move it across to the window where my Ascocentrum and Vanda are hanging. Of course, it's also a major pain if you go away and have to entrust your orchids to someone else. I know of one orchid fanatic that takes her mounted orchids on holiday with her!

Can't wait for the other spike to open too; OrchidWeb suggests we're in for a long show of 1-3 months! I'll let you know when the other spike opens. I also plan to clean my camera's sensor again soon. One disadvantage I've noticed with DSLRs is the regular appearance of dust and dirt on all your photos.

Incidentally, if any readers have particular questions on orchids, or would like to see a particular post topic, I'm more than happy to try and answer them/feature such a post.
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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

New Plants: Plantae

At the EPOS meeting on Thursday, we picked up four more plants from Plantae - a number which I felt was very reserved, but at which OOAB's Senior Management rolled her eyes and said something about "Two orchids. We said two*". Always hard to restrain yourself when presented with 1) a big, long list of great plants 2) a personal courier service by one of the owners of the nursery and 3) a 10% discount! As usual, the plants were well packed in paper/polyester wool sheeting; I don't have any pictures of that as it was quite late when we got home from Port Elizabeth; I wanted to get them out of the packaging and onto the shelving ASAP.

So, without further ado, onto the exciting part. New plants :)

First up, to go with the theme of "blue orchids", I spent a fair few minutes trying to Google pictures of various Cattleya Alliance plants which the team at Plantae had helpfully highlighted as being "blue" in their price list. You might be interested to read my post about blue orchids (and mustard). Here is our shiny new mounted Laelia sincorana f. coerulea:
Laelia sincorana f. coerulea

According to IOSPE, L. sincorana comes from a dry region of Brazil and needs a "very dry" rest period in the winter. Other sources suggest the roots need to dry "very quickly" after watering, so I imagine it'll like being near my Tolumnia. Best I remember that watering regimen in the coming months, particularly with all that moss around the roots!

Next, we have Maxillaria tenuifolia:
Maxillaria tenuifolia
As many orchid-growers will know, the flowers of this species usually have a rather interesting aroma of coconut - some people have compared it to suntan lotion, piƱa colada or coconut cream pie! I am trying to collect various fragrant orchids, as I find this aspect of them to be quite intriguing. To this end, I recently acquired a copy of Steven Frowine's Fragrant Orchids, which at some stage I'll get around to reading properly and reviewing. Again, this orchid apparently enjoys a somewhat dry winter "rest period". I find the delicate foliage on this one quite graceful and attractive. Apparently, many people find it prefers being mounted instead of in a pot; ours is currently in a pot with what looks like coconut husk chips. I might consider mounting it one day... It seems to prefer fairly high light levels (stick it with your Catts or Cymbidium), but will tolerate lower light levels. According to IOSPE, it seems to grow all over the place at a variety of altitudes, so I suspect it's probably quite adaptable and forgiving.

Mediocalcar decoratum is a pretty tiny, miniature mat-forming plant:
Mediocalcar decoratum
I suspect if I get growing this one right, along with my pleurothallids, it might be time to "risk" something like Dendrobium cuthbertsonii, which comes from a similar part of the world to this species and seems to prefer similar cultural requirements. This plant is apparently equally happy either mounted or in a pot, but needs room to ramble. I should perhaps consider chopping a chunk out of some EcoWeb I recently received from First Rays. It seems to prefer fairly low light, so I imagine it will be happy with the paphs, and apparently likes being regularly watered. It's a cute little plant and I look forward to seeing it flower, when these plants are covered in tiny yellow-orange blossoms. Apparently, this species was only described in 1989! Ron Hanko has some great photos of it over at Orchids in Bloom; have a look at his impressive orchidariums when you visit!

Finally, Dendrobium unicum:
Dendrobium unicum
This plant apparently drops its leaves in its second year of growth (presumably on each growth), so I must not panic if I see the leaves do so! In fact, shortly after this leaf fall, you'll see the development of flowers along nodes on the stem. It has great orange flowers which apparently "smell exactly like freshly sharpened crayons". I wonder what animal finds that smell enticing (and what would happen if you sat in its natural habitat sharpening crayons)!? Apparently, it prefers being mounted or in a basket. Like many Dendrobium, it likes a cooler, dryer period in the winter with fertiliser being withheld during that period. 

So, whilst this order might have been for four more plants, I think we can all agree they're rather small - which, it could be argued (I maintain so!), is like getting 2 plants... :D They're certainly not another Ansellia africana, which dwarfs all my other orchids. We've also made some more room at OOAB HQ by moving (thanks Ron!) two gigantic pots with frangipani planted in them to the garden outside my office. Our sneaky plan is to make/buy some kind of staging upon which to grow plants in the area formerly dominated by the frangipani. One day, we shall have a garden, and that garden shall be great. And feature two frangipani!

Hooray for miniatures!

*good thing that Bulbophyllum tingabarinum was out of stock then, phew.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Blue Orchids... and Mustard?!

Colman's Mustard...
and orchids?
What does mustard have to do with orchids? According to Nollie Cilliers from Plantae, who gave last night's EPOS talk, quite a lot. It turns out that Sir Jeremiah Colman, who built up the business bearing his name, had a passion for orchids and was determined to try and make blue orchid hybrids. His successful mustard empire gave him the financial resources to build some of the most advanced orchid-growing greenhouses in Britain at the time, where he maintained something like 30,000 adult orchids and some 20,000 orchid seedlings...! This took place at Gatton Park Manor, which he purchased in 1888, where he also bred cattle (hence the bull on the mustard bottle!). Colman went on to conduct probably the first intensive and successful blue orchid hybridising programme, and his crosses laid the foundation for many of the blues we have today. He wrote a book on his experiences in hybridising orchids. The hybrid nothogenus Colmanara is named after him, as are numerous crosses and species. Sadly, most of his breeding lines were lost in the chaos and austerity that happened during World War Two and thereafter, but some of the hybrids have since been re-made; apparently he gave his entire orchid collection to the University of Cambridge's botanic gardens in 1933, where presumably WWII took its toll.

Nollie went on to describe the continuing quest for blue orchids - specifically blue Cattleya Alliance orchids - briefly covering the biochemical basis for orchid colours (anthocyanins and anthoxanthins), the role of intracellular pH on flower colour (explaining colour shift with flower age), and that intracellular pH was governed by about 5 genes, making it an extremely tricky quality to adjust through selective breeding and hybridisation.

Colman's State-of-the-Art Glasshouses at Gatton Park
From Gatton Park Archive
As usual in orchid slide shows, we were treated to a visual smorgasbord of ancestral orchid species (many "coerulea" forms) and the resulting hybrids, and to some of the history behind the quest for "true blue" Cattleyas. For some reason, "true blue" orchids are considered impossible (at least, outside the world of artificially colouring the flower, as it done in some Dendrobium and Phalaenopsis, or genetically engineering "true blue" into them). As far as I can tell, the reason for the lack of "true blue"  is that orchids (and a host of other plants) don't produce a particular pigment called delphinidin which is apparently responsible for "true blue" in other plants. If you're interested in blue in orchids, Orchid Board has a long thread about it - well worth a few minutes of your time.

And from what I saw last night, "true blue" is pretty elusive in this Alliance; plenty of flowers got quite close, but they were always a bit purple or lilac or some similar "I'm a man and I have no idea what that colour is called, but it's not blue". OOAB's better half declared that perhaps some Cattleya weren't all that bad - and that they photographed poorly. We'd previously agreed they were trying a bit too hard to be fancy, and prefer less "showy" flowers on the whole.

Somewhat predictably, Cattleyas yet again walked away with the plant table prizes; one was a stunning red miniature grown by Cattleya enthusiast Sean, which won two prizes. Sean spent a few minutes chatting to us last night and invited us to stop by his greenhouse next time we were in PE - thanks for the invitation! Our plant table effort was our Stenoglottis, which an Orchid Board member pointed out was named Ganymede - so we now have a name for it beside its hybrid ancestry.

I could hardly pass up the opportunity to acquire some more orchids from Plantae, so we returned home with four new plants - apparently, I was the only person from the society to order a blue orchid from them, despite Nollie conveniently highlighting all the blue Cattleya Alliance plants in their price list! We've now added a Maxillaria tenuifolia (yay, coconut fragrance!), Mediocalar decoratum (cute miniature), Dendrobium unicum (another cute miniature with great yellow flowers) and, in honour of the talk, the aforementioned "blue" - Laelia sincorana f. coerulea. It was pretty hard to keep the order down to just four plants, but under strict instructions to only order two, I didn't think I'd push my luck... :) I'll post over the weekend with pics of these plants - as usual, great packaging and healthy plants.

Thanks, Nollie!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Plant Update - new spikes! New Flowers!

I took some pictures on Sunday afternoon of some progress at OOAB HQ.

First up, our lovely Stenoglottis S0703 (Sten. Saturn 'Electric' x Sten. woodii 'Gous') has finally flowered after watching three spikes slowly grow. The spottiness of the leaves carries on into the flowers!

I've since found out this cross is called Stenoglottis Ganymede - quite a good name seeing as Ganymede is one of Saturn's moons!
Stenoglottis Ganymede spike - one of three!
Flowering Triffid Stenoglottis
Stenoglottis Ganymede flower
Stenoglottis Ganymede flower
Not all the flowers on the spikes have opened yet. We're thinking of taking this one to the EPOS meeting on Thursday this week.

Next up, out Rhynchostylis coelestis has not one but two spikes on it. Guess the little bout of fungus or whatever hasn't worried it too much...

Looks like the flowers will be purple-ish or lilac-y. Don't think it'll be open by Thursday though!

Yay, buds!

Nearly opening...!
Second spike
Also, the bud on our Paphiopedilum Onyx has opened fully and is more symmetrical that the one on its friend.
Paphiopedilum Onyx
Finally, an update on the progress of our recently (~3 weeks) deflasked seedlings.
Some really hot, dry days took their toll, I think - this was before my propagator arrived, unfortunately, so I think some of them really took strain. They're now happily cocooned in the Garland Big 3 propagator - and I'm keeping a beady eye out for fungus. A few plants in each tray had started obviously dying, so I pulled them out.
(A18 Blc. Three Sun 'Sun #16' x Pot. Shin Shiang Diamond)
Note the dying seedlings :( 

( Blc. A17 Blc. Chian-Tzy Salmon x Blc. Shinfong Luoyang 'Gold')
Fewer dying plants.
Not too bad, I think! In less positive news, this morning I finally noticed that our Microcoelia exilis is *covered* in scale, so I spent about 15 minutes scratching it all off with my fingernails - will have to do another once-over later on and keep an eye out for more of those buggers. I also saw a single mealybug on one of the plants and squashed it immediately.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Phalaenopsis NOID 2

A thread on Orchid Board about NOID Phalaenopsis pictures got me to pull down my second oldest orchid for a quick couple of pictures this morning. Whilst it was down, I noticed that the aerial roots were looking sad, going brown/black on the tips. I've been meaning to repot this plant for a very long time, but it's been pretty much constantly in bloom since we got it, and we didn't want to risk stressing it out with a repot. Thinking it might have gotten over-fertilised, I gave it a quick soak in RO water - but the water was pouring through so slowly I didn't like it one bit, so I decided "never mind the flowers, it needs new medium, now". I pulled it out, and virtually all the roots in the sphagnum were dead - it had quite an impressive root system at one time...The moss was really tightly packed in there, and I guess that lead to the demise of all the roots :(

It's now in bark (which I prefer to sphagnum for plants which don't like being constantly moist).I think I can save it with some TLC...

Anyway, some pictures. As I had wet hands, I didn't actually take any of the sad looking roots or re-potting process, but we have (happily) some flowers to look at... Amazing to think that such a sad plant will still happily bloom and put on a fairly good show - I guess it's a last ditch effort to pass on some genes!

The sad orchid at the back left,
and the double spike one I wrote about previously in front
Amusingly, when we were standing in the check-out queue at Woolworths in PE to buy this orchid, the Afrikaans lady behind us remarked "Wow, that's such a beautiful plant! Imagine how beautiful Jesus must be!". We shuffled about nervously and did the "smile at the crazy lady" thing.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Early Birthday Present :D

Yesterday I received an early birthday present from my lovely girlfriend - 4 lovely miniature orchids from Inhle Orchids, which were already unpacked by the time I was told to come home and look at my present. Apparently, the plants were wrapped in bubble wrap and placed inside a box; they seem to have come through fairly well. Interestingly, Inhle shipped them before even being paid - very unusual in South Africa! All are new genera to the OOAB collection. Yay diversity! So, without further ado:

Bulbophyllum laxiflorum
Bulbophyllum purpurascens

Pleurothallis palliolata
Restrepia trichoglossa
Can hardly wait for them all to get around to flowering!

The first two (as you can clearly see!) came mounted on little bark chunks, whilst the two Pleurothallid Alliance plants had sphagnum moss around their roots; I kept that intact and packed some more moss around the roots.

Sadly, it looks like my big bucket 'o moss (a 5l water jug with the top hacked off) has attracted what I think are fungus gnats (arghh!). The little swines are all over the place. Will have to do something about them, as I have an aversion to small insects flying around my collection! Bacillus thuringiensis ssp. israelensis is apparently a good biological control. Of course, getting hold of such things around here is an epic pain. I have yet to find a supplier of any biological controls in .za (at least, any that respond to my email).