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Here at Cal-Orchid, Lycastes are considered the most beautiful orchids in the world. The flowers are large, shapely, and come in the most attractive colors. The genus is relatively small, approximately 40 species, and separated into three groups: deciduosa, macrophylla, and fimbriata. Recently the fimbriata group was separated into a new genus of its own, first Ida and now Lycastesuramerica. We are not real fans of this new taxonomic trend. If you want to learn more, please look to Dr. Henry Oakley's fantastic book; Lycaste, Ida and Anguloa. Everything you need to know about Lycaste species can be found in this book. Since the beginning of orchid growing in the 1800s, Lycastes have held a special place for orchid growers. (The name of the genus Lycaste is in honor of the daughter of Priam, the last king of Troy.) At our nursery, we grow mainly hybrids bred from Lyc. skinneri, generally considered the queen of the genus. In Guatemala, where Lyc. skinneri is native, the alba form is called 'La Monja Blanca', the White Nun, and is the National Flower. Lyc. skinneri was conspicuously featured in Reichenbachia, the very famous books by Fredrick Sander, printed in 1888. He wrote "Among the numerous tropical plants with which our gardens were enriched 40 years ago by the celebrated traveler, G. Ure-Skinner, there is none which has become so popular than the glorious Lycaste, which bears his name.". .He later refers to it as "the Drawing Room Orchid" as the flowers last exceptionally long and the foliage is so elegant and handsome. The flowers of Lyc. skinneri come in almost every shade of pink as well as alba. By all accounts, and for over a hundred years, this has been considered a truly glorious plant.
On a recent trip to Guatemala, Laurie and I hiked for quite some distance, over wet, densely forested, slippery terrain to see Lyc. skinneri in situ. This was a real highpoint of our careers as orchid growers and certainly gave us a better idea about the cultural conditions under which these plants prefer to grow. The fact that we hiked for hours before finding a single specimen was a clear indication of the extreme local pressure placed on this plant due to it's high popularity among the locals. It used to be fairly common to find bareroot plants available in the town mercados for sale. From the beginning, in the 19th century, these plants were over-collected, by the hundreds of thousands, and to a lesser extent, this local pressure continues.
We do not grow many of the species, but prefer instead to cultivate the finest of new hybrids primarily based on Lyc. skinneri. Such a breeding program is not new; it was practiced earnestly in the last mid-century in England with nurseries like Wyld Court Orchids, and later by McBeans Orchids. In time, Mr. Fred Alcorn of Australia carried on and produced some very good lines. By the 1980s, when I worked at Santa Barbara Orchid Estate, they became a leader in Lycaste breeding. Since the 1990s, we feel the finest quality breeding has been done in Japan. Mr. Hideki Nagai had bought many flasks from America and based on these plants, launched the finest line of hybrids ever seen. We are very fortunate to have him as a friend and until he retired recently, enjoyed blooming many of his seedlings. Much of the best breeding is currently being done is by Mr. Abou, and his manager, Ms. Hara. We travel annually to purchase the best of these new hybrids to establish and offer for sale to our customers. Ideally, we would like to continue our own breeding program here, but unfortunately the quality of flasking by American laboratories is too poor and we do not have the space to build our own facilities. We are content to continue our arrangement with our Japanese friends to import new crosses each year. The quality of flowers continue to improve with large size, better shape and a wide assortment of colors. It is our hope that everyone appreciates this genus as much as we do and enjoys growing them.
Temperature--As was referenced in Reichenbachia, the best looking specimens are grown at a night temperature of 55-60 degrees. This is a little cooler than most intermediate greenhouses. As Lyc. skinneri is a mountain species, the daytime temperatures also do not rise to any extreme. We keep them around 80 degrees in the Summer, although the greenhouse occasionally reaches the mid 80s. Maybe an easy way to think about it is to just think of the conditions as "sweater weather". If you live in a very warm climate, it is advisable to grow members of the deciduodsa, or yellow-flowered, group.
Light--After observing Lyc. skinneri in nature, we have made some adjustments for the light levels. We recommend filtered light, even on the slightly shady side, but be careful to give enough light. The leaves will be a nice emerald green. If too much light is given, there will be some stress to the plant so it will be necessary to keep in in a much cooler area. It's a fine line, but once obtained you will see robust plants with strong spikes.
Humidity and Air Movement-- These are very important criteria for good culture. During the growing season higher humidity is best. In the area where Lyc. skinneri grows, a phenomena known as the 'chipi-chipi' occurs. This nick-name refers to a mountain fog that often blows in during the afternoons and pbathes the plants with high humidity. On dry Southern California days, even though we are just 2 blocks from the ocean, we will often spritz the plants down during the dry afternoons. Maintaining this higher humidity requires good air circulation as well to prevent any type of disease from flourishing.
Water and Fertilizer-- Since Lycastes are seasonal in their growth, there are also two distinct watering schedules. During the late Spring, Summer, and early Fall, when they are in active growth, these plants require thorough and abundant watering; perhaps every 4-6 days. This is the season of the tropical rains in Guatemala. Finally, the Wintertime, the bulbs are formed, so water should be considerably reduced to alleviate any potential for rot. Give just enough to prevent shriveling of the bulbs. Do this until new growth is seen pushing. If too much water is applied during this drier season, edema, or small blisters, may affect the new bulbs. Simply open the blister with a sterilized tool to prevent spread. Lycastes love good nutrition during the long growing season. We fertilize almost every watering.
Potting-- Lycastes can be grown in a wide variety of media. Just try some different types until you find what works best for you under your conditions. We are currently using redwood fiber for the adult plants. The seedlings are put in a mix of large grade fine fir bark, perlite, and charcoal. In Japan, where the culture is exceptional, only New Zealand sphagnum moss is used. All potting should be done when the new growth is about 3-4 inches high and new roots can be seen.