Laelia anceps and it's Hybrids
For us, another group of the most beautiful orchids are the Laelias of Mexico. (Of course, some people today consider only the Mexican Laelias to be true Laelias.) We think none of these laelias have the charm and beauty as does Laelia anceps however! L. anceps was first described by John Lindley in the Botanical Register in 1835. This fairly common species grows on Mexico's Eastern mountain range, the Sierra Madre Oriental, which extends from the northern areas near Jalapa to the southern areas near Oaxaca. The subvariety dawsonii (the white varieties) extend north from Oaxaca on the Sierra Madre Occidental to the state of Guerrero in much warmer areas. They are found in the mid-elevations of these mountain ranges making them a very durable plants withstanding temperatures from the high 20's to the low 100's! Another reason this species is so special is because it can be found in many different color varieties; lavender, pink, blue, and white. It was written by John Day in 1888 that "The varieties of Laelia anceps are endless". When the species was first collected and sold in England in the 1880s, it created a huge frenzy. It is recorded that Mr. de Barri Crawshay tried to corner the market of L. anceps schoerderae by buying every plant that was imported! Today we know that plant as L. anceps chilapensis which is now extinct in nature. One of these sub-varieties is var. Dawsonii, which was first collected in 1865.This plant created a huge sensation as it was the first of the white varieties. It was remarked by the collector, John Tucker, that the area where it was found was "remarkable for it's extremes of temperature", one of the reasons we cite as lending to it popularity today, but to give you an idea of their popularity in the 1800's, the Royal Horticulture Society gave close to 30 awards leading right up to 1915 just to Laelia anceps, recognizing almost all different color varieties. Today, this is a very special plant for us in Southern California as it is the best plant for introduction into our gardens whether in pots or as mounts on trees of all description.
It should be noted that Laelia anceps has also proven to be a fantastic parent withn the cattleya group. The first L. anceps hybrid was L. Amoena, (anceps X pumila), made in 1894. Since then many hybrids have been made. In the 1800s, the hybrids mostly consisted of primary hybrids such as Lc. Fredrick Boyle, Lc. Amethystella, and Lc. Liptonii, all very beautiful. After this period, L. anceps was used fairly often with whatever cattleya hybrids were current and choice at the time. After World War II, L. anceps became a very popular parent for the famous California nurseries, Rod Mclellan Co., Fred Stewert Orchids, and Armacost and Royston to name a few. The primary interest for these nurseries was to develop a line of temperature tolerant cattleyas that grew well in the gardens of California. The hybrids are extremely durable and able to withstand extremely difficult temperatures. Probably no hybrid is more well known than Lc. Puppy Love 'True Beauty' AM/AOS that was created during this period. The crosses are easily recognizable by their names; Stewart's named their crosses for Mexican locales and Armacost named theirs the 'Coastal' series. Also during this time quite a few nice hybrids were made by avid hobbiests. Today's modern L. anceps hybrids are nothing short of spectacular and stand alone whether for outdoor coastal garden use or as a greenhouse collector's addition. Because we now enjoy such a large group of high quality cattleya cultivars and, even more so, high quality man- made L. anceps varieties due to selective breeding of the species, the future of L. anceps is very promising. Hobbyists and commercial growers can look forward to very exciting new hybrids in a wide variety of types to continue to dazzle.
Temperature-- Because L. anceps grows in nature under a very extreme temperature range, both it and it's hybrids are very durable plants. They easily take temperatures down to freezing or as warm as the 90's. If grown in intermediate greenhouses, they will really. For us in Southern California, they are quite comfortable under outdoor conditions.
Light-- Laelia anceps can be found in nature growing in near full sun, teaching us that the plants prefer quite bright conditions. Both the species and it's hybrids will do best in bright cattleya light. If the foliage is too green the plant is not receiving enough light and will not grow strongly or flower well.
Humidity and Air Movement-- Though the plants prefer humidity in the 40-60% range, the plants are so tough that they can take the hot winds of the 'Santa Ana' conditions Southern California can present. Under these dry conditions, it is advisable to mist your plants daily, especially if mounted.The summer months in Mexico are a time of very high humidity and high temperatures. Air movement is not a problem for plants outdoors, but if grown inside good movement of fresh air is recommended.
Watering and Fertilizing-- One needs only to look at the weather of Mexico to learn about the watering schedule of laelia. The late spring, summer, and early fall months are a period of heavy tropical rains. Make sure to keep your plants well watered during this period. Just the opposite happens during the other times of the year, when temperatures are lower and it is quite seasonally dry. Water less at this time. Laelias love ample fertilizing during their rapid growth season in the summer. We apply fertilizer almost every watering.
Potting-- This is a very important factor for attaining good culture of L.anceps and it's hybrids. They are quite susceptible to root loss if they are kept to wet in the dry season or if the potting mix is old. Very course mixes work well with Laelias. We use a high quality medium grade of fir bark, even occasionally adding some charcoal for durability. Other inorganic additives will also work. The time of potting is also very important. It is best done right when a flush of new roots appear. If you wait too long, the spikes will actually begin to appear, even though the bulbs are not mature. It is essential that the roots given a chance to get established in the new mix in order to get a strong flowering.Don't worry, the plant will establish very quickly. If you miss this time, your plant will sulk and not thrive. These plants are wonderful candidates for mounting. We prefer cork bark for mounting. L. anceps and it's hybrids root so well on cork and grow extremely well making a beautiful specimen. Consider growing a cork oak (Quercus suber) and mounting your orchids onto it for a stupendous garden centerpiece! These trees are gorgeous, and only more so covered with orchids!!