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Sobralia is one of the most rewarding of all the terrestrial Genera of Orchids. Not only are the flowers showy and beautiful, but the foliage is so attractive that these plants are quite decorative when not in bloom. The genus is comprised of approximately 120 species. Because of new taxonomic work, the Genus is increasing with the discovery of quite a few new species. Much of this work is carried out by Fredy Archila who has recently listed a doze new species just from Guatemala. These are of special interest for us as they meet the cultural requirements of our area. The plant size can vary considerably from the very petite Aob. callosa to the huge growth habit of Sob. cattleya with growths up to 15 feet. The flowers also can vary from the rather small forms like Sob. decora to the large and showy types like Sob. macrantha and Sob. rogersiana. Because Sobralia comes from such a large geographic area, from Mexico in the North to Peru in the South, the growing conditions vary quite a bit. Generally, just good intermediate conditions prevail as Sobralias are for the most part mountain growing plants. The Genus was established by the famous taxonomists for Latin America, Ruiz and Pavon, in 1794 with the description of sob. dichotoma. Fortunately, today we are seeing more and more Sobralia species introduced to cultivation and this has created new enthusiasm for the Genus. One thing of note about the flowers of this Genus are not long-lived. Some last for a matter of hours though some species can last for more than a week. The plants compensate by producing a plethora of flowers creating magnificent displays
This new interest in Sobralias has also created a new interest in hybridization within the Genus. The first Sobralia hybrid was Sobralia Wiganiae made in 1856. It is a cross of Sob. xantholeuca with Sob. unknown. Most certainly the other parent was Sob. macrantha which would really classify it as Sob. Veitchii which was registered in 1894. Much work today in Sobralia breeding is being pioneered by Bruce Rogers in San Francisco. For us, we concentrate on a smaller group of parents which give our plants a certain amount of cold hardiness. This trait allows Sobralias to be grown very successfully in Southern California gardens.These hybrids can withstand small amounts of frost. They are also being successfully being grown in Southern Florida. These hybrids with sob. macrantha and Sob. xantholeuca make some of the most beautiful and large flowers and also exhibit striking foliage similar to a lacy bamboo. Because of these traits Sobralias have been incorporated in southern California landscapes. The main flowering season is in early summer allowing a nice show when there is not much in bloom.
Temperature-- This widespread Genus can be very successfully grown in standard intermediate condition. With the addition of some of the Guatemalan species, plants can withstand lower night temperature. Intermediate night temperature are in the 55-60 degree range and our hybrids can usually grow well down to 35 degrees, or even a light frost. Day temperatures can rise to 85-90 degrees without causing any damage.
Light-- To get maximum flowering, Sobralias should be given very bright filtered light. When shaded heavily, you may notice more lush foliage, but you plant will not flower well. We grow ours under the same amount of light as Cymbidiums which is about 50-60 degrees of shade.Good amount of light makes much stronger canes which help the plant to remain very upright.
Humidity and Air Movement-- Fortunately, sobralias tend to be quite hardy and able to withstand occasional periods of low humidity. They will grow best if the humidity can be kept in the 50-60 percent range. Some leaf spotting can occur the plants are grown with higher humidity without good air movement. As an outdoor plant, this is not a factor.
Water and Fertilizer-- This is an important factor as Sobralias are terrestrial plants used to having rather moist conditions. The plants require frequent watering through the Spring-Summer months, perhaps every five days. Do not let your plants dry out in this season.They are also very heavy feeders at this time. Top dressing fertilizer as a additional source of nutrition along with a balanced formula works well during this period. Less nutrition is needed during their rather dormant Winter period.
Potting-- These plants are terrestrial and prefer a rather organic mix similar to the areas from which they came. The roots of Sobralias are thick and succulent. We are using a mix of fir bark and perlite, but many people have added some peat with success. Should you want to put your plant in the ground, you must prepare the area with the addition of good draining media like charcoal or pumice. Most importantly, when repotting Sobralia one should be aware that they do not like to be disturbed. Divisions should be fairly large and then the plant will not sulk. If a small piece breaks off, treat it a little more kindly with a little less light and less watering until it establishes.