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Cattleya Fitz Eugene Dixon (photo courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens)
Cattleya Fitz Eugene Dixon (photo courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens)

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Orchids and bromeliads, Flowers

Bright, iconic, 2–6-in. flowers make even non-gardeners think “orchid” whenever they see these tropical American natives. Often used for corsages, cattleyas also make excellent garden subjects in warm, humid parts of the West.

Species, varieties, and hybrids are too numerous to list here. All have pseudobulbs 1–3 in. thick, bearing leathery leaves and a stem topped with one to several flowers. Plants range from a few inches tall to 2 ft. or more, with flowers in lavender and purple, white, and white with a colored lip (semialba). Novelties (many of them hybrids between Cattleya and other genera) also come in yellow, orange, red, green, and bronze.

Cattleyas are year-round outdoor plants in Hawaii, both in containers and naturalized on trees. Elsewhere, they are indoor plants brought outdoors during warm weather. They grow best in a greenhouse where temperature, humidity, and light can be readily controlled. However, they make satisfactory houseplants with temperatures of 55–60°F (13–16°C) at night and 65–80°F (18–27°C) during the day, at least 50–60 percent humidity, and bright indirect light with protection from hot midday sun. Healthy foliage is light green and held erect; low light turns leaves dark green and makes new growth soft.

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