Monday, February 27, 2012

Pretty picture: Psychopsis Mendenhall alba 'Yellow Butterfly'

Since I last complained about my orchids, I've lost two more (both Potinaras). For those keeping score, that means I've attempted eleven orchids and lost six, with two more deaths likely by May:

Ludisia discolor. (Jun 2007 - Nov 2009; overpotted. There might also have been some problems with the mix I repotted it into.)

Dendrobium 'Karen.' (Oct 2008 - Dec 2011; potting medium likely too water-retentive)

Brassolaeliocattleya Helen Brown. (Oct 2008 - STILL ALIVE!)

Dendrobium "Humphrey Bogart"1 (Oct 2008 - STILL ALIVE!)

Paphiopedilum Supersuk 'Eureka' x Paph. Raisin Pie 'Hsinying' x Sib (Nov 2008 - April or May 20122)

Phalaenopsis NOID (Mar 2009 - STILL ALIVE!)

Oncidium NOID. (May 2009 - Aug 2009; attempted salvage of rootless plant from work that unsurprisingly didn't take)

Sophrolaeliocattleya Hazel Boyd 'Debbie.' (Dec 2010 - May 2011; thrown out due to scale)

Potinara Eye Candy 'Mellow Yellow.' (Dec 2010 - Feb 2012; slow death over a long period for no obvious reason)

Potinara Eye Candy 'Sweet Sensation.' (Dec 2010 - Feb 2012; also a slow death over a long period for no obvious reason)

Oncidium Tsiku Marguerite NN #1 (Dec 2010 - any day now; another long slow decline, and the plant is down to about 1/6 of its original size and number of pseudobulbs)

And the few plants that have survived aren't interesting to look at; the only orchid to ever rebloom for me is dead. So I am getting pretty disgusted with the Orchidaceae, to the point where I was seriously considering skipping the Illowa orchid show this year. It's just going to be all the same plants as last year, I can't afford to buy any of them, if I could buy plants they'd just die on me anyway, the pictures often don't turn out that well and need a lot of after-the-fact manipulation, and maybe I just don't want to look at fucking orchid flowers this year.

But. We're going to go anyway, assuming cooperation from the weather, vehicle, and venue, because:

1) I'll probably be less mad by then. (It's scheduled for March 10, at Wallace's Garden Center in Bettendorf, IA; see their website for directions.)
2) There will be other plants there too -- probably not very many, but enough. (Last year I saw my first Pinguicula!)
3) I haven't been to Wallace's in forever, and feel bad about it.3
4) I can't really pass up an opportunity to take 30-40 posts' worth of blog photos in a single day, however I may feel about the subjects.

So if you're there and you see a guy taking close-up pictures of the flowers with kind of a sour, contemptuous expression on his face, say hi! Just don't start talking about how wonderful and easy orchids are to cultivate, or I will have to kick you in the shins.

Unsolicited orchid-troubleshooting advice will also result in shin-kicking.

And I will probably be wearing boots.

In fact, you're probably best not to mention the orchids at all. I realize this will be difficult under the circumstances, but do say hi anyway.


1 My name for it; it was a NOID.
2 I know the approximate date because if it survives to April or May, I'm sending it to someone else. Details to be announced.
3 I like them; we just don't have compelling reasons to go to the Quad Cities very often.


Pat said...

I had never heard of Psychopsis before. I presume it comes from the obvious Greek root "looks like a butterfly".

The only live orchids I owned died within 24 hours of arrival. [burp]

Paul said...

How on Earth did you manage to kill off Ludisia?! The thing is practically a weed! What did you have it potted in and how were you growing it?

In a similar vein, I can't believe you managed to kill the Pot.s! While not nearly as easy as Ludisia, they still are not difficult plants. Over watering is the most common MO. So once again, What medium were you using and what conditions were they given?

Tom said...

I love Psychopsis. I don't care what orchid people say, I'm convinced you need a greenhouse to do them well. I (generally) don't have much luck with them either. The only person I know who DOES have good luck with them is my friend Joanna who has a Paphiopedium that I gave her 4-5 years ago in a 4" pot that has now grown so large it fills up a 10" pot and had 12+ blooms on it last winter. I told her I hated her and if she ever tells me about it again I'm never going to speak to her again.

Sasha Dreamer said...

The Oncidium Tsiku Marguerite is how I found your blog in the first place! I was trying to identify an orchid I'd bought as an impulse purchase from IKEA and you had the most beautiful photograph. I'm sorry to hear yours is dying and I hope your remaining few stay healthy!

mr_subjunctive said...


Come a little closer. My foot can't quite reach.


I'm inclined to believe that orchid enthusiasts are just liars. Which is compatible with your greenhouse theory.

Paul again:

I don't actually remember what the Ludisia started out in; it died when I attempted to repot it into either straight sphagnum or a mix of sphagnum and regular potting mix. I probably also cut it back; I remember that the stems were very long and I was hoping to bring them back to something more reasonable; I was assuming that they'd root. All of this seems fairly obviously and straightforwardly wrong to me now, so I'm willing to accept that that was all my fault (though I would like to know what you're supposed to do with them once the stem is a foot long).

One of the Potinaras was in coconut chips, the other was in a bagged chunky-bark orchid mix. (They would both have been in the chunky orchid mix, but I ran out of it in the middle of the process, or something like that.) In both cases, they began to decline as soon as I got them in the house and never grew significantly.

I started out with them in the large stained aquarium we were going to use for Nina, being under the impression that they needed super-high humidity. Not a lot of direct light in that spot, but they got a little sun on sunny days, and it was bright indirect most of the rest of the time. I don't remember what criteria I was using to decide when to water. They were in the bark mix they'd started out in. They responded to this treatment: by doing nothing.

Then I complained about orchids on the blog and somebody said oh, but they need really good air circulation, you shouldn't have them in the aquarium like that. So I took them out of the aquarium and put them on a low shelf near the east-facing living room window, which was probably slightly brighter and had strong air movement (from a ceiling fan in the same room) 24/7, but also almost certainly less humid. They responded to this treatment: by dropping lots of leaves (which generally went yellow first) and letting some of the pseudobulbs die.

At some point around the same time, someone also told me that they needed ammonia-based nitrogen sources, not urea-based like the Miracle Gro, so I started using a very dilute orchid-specific fertilizer. The Blc. and Phal. both responded positively, immediately, and dramatically; the other orchids, including the Pots, had no detectable response.

So I thought, well, what with all the air movement, they're probably losing water faster, so maybe they're getting too dry between waterings. So I repotted them: on one I just changed the medium (to coconut-fiber chips), but the other one got moved to a larger pot (with chunky bark). They responded to this treatment: by losing more pseudobulbs, and more leaves (which started going directly to black, without an intermediate yellow stage).

So then I chucked them in the trash and washed my hands of the entire family.

houseplantguru said...

I'm sorry about your ludisia. I have very good luck with it, growing it in the same soil as I use for my African violets. (I'm glad I'm not close enough to kick) Also, I kill orchids regularly. My friend buys them and then gives them to me when they are done blooming. I don't understand the orchid bark/sphagnum moss potting medium. Which should I use? Plus, I have too many other plants to coddle orchids. I would like to learn more, though.

Justin said...

Psychopsis is my favorite genus. And in all honesty I have more luck growing oncidium type hybrid orchids on my windowsill than in my terrarium (including Psychopsis), which I use exclusively to grow orchids. I think that oncidiums have a tendency to rot quickly with too much water. You might also give Prosthechea cochleata a shot. They grow well in my south facing window with very little maintenance (large bark with a layer of sphagnum on top).

I've found sphagnum in a terracotta pot to be the best method for windowsill growing of both cattleya's and phalaenopsis.

You can give my shins a good kicking if you like.

orchideya said...

I just wanted to mention that I have small seedling of Psychopsis versteegiana - the cutest little thing, probably couple years from blooming.
Also I agree that orchids are difficult, mostly inappreciative of all the troubles you go through for them, they might die for no apparent reason, or drop the buds just when you thought they will open tomorrow. Happens to me quite often being the indoor grower with low humidity and luck of experience.
But that just makes whoever survives and blooms more precious.

Anonymous said...

You've heard that old chestnut 'You can't call yourself an orchid expert till you've killed 100 orchids'?

You've only got 6 notches on your gunbelt, you (adorable) noob!

Take a look at your surviving specimens and do a little detective work - why are they surviving? I only grow Slc's (Potinara etc.) and Encyclia now because that's what works in the space I have. (Too much light for phals and slippers, not enough room for Blc's, too wet for dendrobium, too warm for Cymbidium and my cats eat the oncidium.

I mix moss, bark, perlite, LECA and charcoal so my medium drains well, but the moss retains enough moisture that the roots don't shrivel. Don't pack your mix in the pot, it should be loose and airy enough that the orchid can be freely pulled from the pot. (But don't do that) Use stakes or rhizome clips (I use criss-crossing elastic bands)to secure the orchid. They want to feel anchored and safe but not smothered. (Yes - they told me so)

Don't give up. :)


mr_subjunctive said...


Well, I can't afford to buy and kill 89 more, though. So can I pleeeeeease give up?

Ivynettle said...

I haven't had any luck with Ludisia, either. I should have learned my lesson when I killed my mother's, and the cuttings I'd taken from it, but no, I had to buy my own after I moved out, and it's not doing well either.
And Phals, for all I tell my customers they're easy - I can't get them to rebloom!

paivi said...

It's probably one of the mysteries of life how someone's 'easy' plant can be impossible for others. I've managed to kill off a score of supposedly easy plants (Aglaonemas, Spathiphyllums, Dracaena marginata, even a Pothos once) but orchids? For some reason they love me.

I find the demise of your Oncidiums strange, since mine are pretty much unkillable. I don't do most of the stuff orchid people recommend, and they still re-bloom every year. Like African violets, they seem to thrive on certain kind of neglect.

As for your Phalaenopsis, good luck with killing that off. Once I left one of mine just sitting on a plate, roots bare and no potting soil. Occasionally i poured tap water on the plate... and a month later, I got vigorous blooms. The plant is still alive, although I've given it a pot since, since the tangle of roots on a silly dinner plate looked a bit sad.

Paul said...

@Mr. S --
Good air circulation is indeed a requirement for most of the orchid Family. I do grow most of my mini minis (adult plants of which tend to be under 3 inches tall) in a terrarium. HOWEVER, I do have PC fans running 24/7 in the terr to provide air circulation.

Humidity -- While it is true that most orchids do appreciate some humidity, many do not require anything excessive. The real mini's do but that is completely understandable as most come from mountain cloud forests and the vast majority have very fine roots which desiccate easily. Vandas do best with very high humidity as well. In their case it has to do with their native habitat and the fact that they are generally grown without any media whatsoever. But there are many orchids that -- while they may not be thrilled with low humidity -- will tolerate it. My RH sucks royally. I am lucky if I can get an RH of 33% with a humidifier running on high 24/7. Despite this, my catts, phals, encyclias, and yes even Ludisia do just fine. From what you have said about your humidity in the past, that is not likely to be your problem.

Light and watering are generally the two biggest problems people have.

Watering: Catts -- like your now deceased Pots -- typically like to dry out somewhat between waterings. Mine get downright bone dry at times. I water most of my plants (including non-orchids) once a week. Some of the orchds have a different ratio of ingredients to their mix than others but most get the same thing. Ludisia does not like to dryout completely.

Light is the most critical issue. Catts tend to like very high light as well as warm temps (temps from mid 70's through the 80's even low 90's). In low light and cool temps, most will not grow at all -- entering dormant state if you will. (And by extension will not making much use of water or fertilizers during such a period. Under such conditions they are more susceptable to root rot if watered heavily.)

Like Jenny, I do not pack my medium in and I typically add LECA to my mixes. For my conditions -- dry as they are -- this works for me. I will add that when watering, I soak most of my plants.

Ludisia can be rooted from cuttings -- I do this to mine regularly when it gets too leggy. Note: It should take quite some time ... as in years ... to get really leggy IF you are providing enough light. These are low light plants but even they have standards. If given the right amount of light, Ludisia tends to keep a bit more compact form. Mine get potted in roughly a 50/50 mix of regular potting soil and large grade orchid bark. (The Phal mix sold by Lowes and such with the large chunks of bark and large chunks of charcoal works well.) DO NOT use a potting soil that contains those stupid "water crystals" or fertilizer. Typically I allow a cutting to harden off for a day or two before planting. While not "essential", I just think it might help prevent bacteria or fungal infection. Keep the medium lightly/barely moist. When new growth is evident, the cutting should be rooted. As with most plant cuttings, warmth is important for rooting.

Paul said...

@Plantguru --

Coddle orchids? Why on Earth would you do that? Yes there are some that do need some coddling (especially many of the mini-minis) but as whole they requrie far less coddling than an AV. Mine get watered once a week. My humidity sucks royally -- I'm lucky if I can get the RH up to 33% with a humidifier running 24/7. Coddling? Hardly.

As far as which media, that is the one area in which you, regrettably, must do some experimentation. Because each person's growing conditions & cultural practices are different, what works for one person may not work for another. Bark is the least water retentive of the commonly used media. Coconut husk chunks is more water retentive and oddly enough breaks down LESS quickly than bark. Sphag -- as long as it hasn't become completely dry, is the most water retentive. Sphag is often the most difficult medium for the average person to use successfully.

@Ivynette --

Are you giving your phals a temperature drop of 10-15 degrees at night? Most phals require temp drops into the low 60's or upooer 50's for several weeks in the fall/winter to initiate spiking.

NotSoAngryRedHead said...

I dunno if it helps at all, but as far as getting good specimen photographs, I've posted a few tutorials on Instructables/blog that are easy-peasy and should help cut down on the digital editing. The trickiest thing is getting an automatic camera to not under/overexpose the shot.

How to Create a Perfectly Black Background:

How to Create a Perfectly White Background:

Primer to F-Stops, Shutter Speeds, and ISOs:

mr_subjunctive said...


Unfortunately, most of that advice doesn't work at the orchid show. Lots of other people milling around, I can't move or touch the plants, and the camera makes a lot of its own decisions, some of which work out okay, or at least can be easily corrected (exposure time), and some of which are much harder to deal with (color balance).[1]

I wish I had a permanent location I could set up to take photos, like you appear to. I set something similar up in the summer (metal hospital cart + neighbor's fence + large piece of black cloth = studio), but it's too cold to take anything outside now, and will be for at least another month, maybe two. The trouble being that any large, flat, lit space inside the house is liable to wind up as "temporary"[2] plant space, which then quickly becomes unusable for photographic purposes. And all the spots with natural light were claimed a long time ago.

GIMP interests me, though. I have a Photoshoppish program (Photoshop Elements 2.0) that I've mostly found too complicated to use, especially since Irfanview will do 95% of the things I need done anyway. But I am intrigued by the "pick black point" tool; I've often wished for something I could use to define one point as a specific color and have the rest of the image alter to fit.


[1] Last year's crop of photos in particular had some serious problems with color -- everything tended to be either too blue or too yellow. I think this was more of a weather problem than a camera problem: the sun kept going in and out of the clouds, so I kept trying to find the right setting for one situation and then it would switch to the other. Taking pictures on the cloudy setting when the sun is out --> pictures that are too yellow; being on the sun setting when it's cloudy --> pictures that are too blue. There's an automatic setting, but it wasn't keeping up very well either, which I noticed while I was there: that's why I was trying to fiddle with the sun/clouds settings.
[2] (permanent)

NotSoAngryRedHead said...

Oh gosh, sorry! I thought it might help at home, not the show. Shows are chaotic!

As far as a permanent studio? Negative. For proof, look at the "studios" I set up outside in step 1 of Creating a Perfectly Black Background and the last slide of Creating a Perfectly White Background. For further proof, check out Step 3 of Perfectly Black Background, and you will see I have a "stick in a can" with a clamp utility light (plus color neutral bulb from Home Depot), a piece of poster board taped (black electrical tape) to the back of a chair on the dining room table, and an old piece of bubble wrap to diffuse the light from the lamp. I even got my tripod for $20 at Big Lots. The "stick in a can" gets stored in the closet but can be substituted with whatever's available at home. Poster board goes under the bed on top of a folding card table. Utility lamps find various other purposes even though I try to keep them dedicated for photography because I hate hunting and checking bulbs for color. Blah, blah, blah.

Granted I made the poor assumption that you're starting to get some relatively mild days, so my apologies!

GIMP is a pretty hefty program, and it's free. I've used it for a decade now, and it's gotten better and better. I don't use any other program for editing. My next goal is to create some awesome HDR shots.

mr_subjunctive said...


Well, we're getting there: our high today is supposed to be 70F/21C. Unfortunately, it's also going to be windy as hell, so it's still no good for photos. We only seem to get about ten days a year when the light, precipitation, wind, and temperature are all suitable for photography.

Also: I got your e-mail and will write back, I swear, but I'm having a very hard time keeping up with the blog, watering, e-mail, etc. lately, so it will be at least a few days. Probably.

NotSoAngryRedHead said...

No worries! Drop a line when you get a chance!