Care & Growing Catasetinae in Dry Climates (Catasetum, Clowesia, Cycnoches, Mormodes, etc)

In Catasetinae
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**Update Aug 2020: I no longer have any Catasetinae-type orchids. This spring they were the choice plant by every pest I loath: spidermites, thrips and even mealybugs. The leaves are huge and reach out over plants it created a significant issue for transmission to other plants, so I put them outside on my patio off to the side and shaded by the balcony above my unit. On a particularly hot week, the group of them got burnt and they never recovered.

I would not consider my ability to grow this specific group of plants “expert quality” so take the following information with a grain of salt. Some key challenges I find with these plants are that they get huge, they reach out across plants, they attract spidermites like crazy, they don’t seem to tolerate minerals in water, and because they are so seasonal in their growth pattern, small setbacks can be significant if they happen at the wrong time of year.

Oct 25, 2017—Catasetinae Care Post

Fred Clarke from Sunset Valley Orchids was at our local OS meet this week and I got a chance to ask him a few questions about Catasetinae care that has been bugging me; specifically about growing them dry climates (‘dry’ being under 50% humidity), and methods to help improve success.

The back story to this is, I’ve had some issues with Catasetinae in the past and I ended up killing like 10+ plants. It turns out I was growing my orchids like cacti (because pretty much everything online says NOT to get my plants “WET”). In some situations that may be okay, desired or even good (like when your humidity is over 70%), but it’s REALLY bad for orchids when they’re not getting watered enough AND the atmosphere is sapping internal water away on a daily basis via transpiration. Growing your orchids dry is not good if you also live in a dry climate.

A dry Catasetinae in a dry climate is a magnet for:

  • Spider Mites (which leads to early leaf destruction, then eventually the plant dies out in the winter because it didn’t get enough nutrients in the summer).
  • Pseudobulb shriveling/drying out in the winter before spring hits
  • Generally crappy results and then death because of the first two points.

So what do we do? We adjust our methods for growing in dry climates…

How to Care for Catasetinae in Dry Climates

1. Spray your leaves, spray your bulbs, spray the whole damn plant

I asked Fred if it was okay to spray the plants with water, because I’ve found that to be VERY helpful with my other orchids. I spray the leaves of my phals, phrags, paphs, etc, but catasetums, clowesia, etc, have had me fearful of getting water on the leaves or around the bulb for fear of rot. You’ll notice the issues I’ve had above are not rot. In fact, because I grow in a dry climate, rot has never been an issue for me with any of my orchids.

Fred gave me the go-ahead and explained that spraying the leaves was a great way to knock back spider mites, but he also explained that I want to make sure any remaining water on the orchid dries within about 4 hours. What happens if water pools for longer than that, is that fungal spores and/or bacteria blooms will grow and potentially be able to infect your plant; but under 4 hours and you should be gold.

I think the other thing to consider is, if you’re spraying our leaves a lot every week, you’re washing them and getting rid of a lot of those spores and bacteria and the more regularly you do it, the better it becomes for your orchids because you’re essentially cleaning them. ASSUMING YOUR PLANTS ARE DRYING OFF AFTERWARDS. Also, if you live in a drier climate, the water doesn’t last long anyways. If you live in a humid climate — please don’t do this; if your humidity is high, the water will hang around on the leaves a lot longer and it will give the bacteria and fungus a good, long while to multiply under ideal conditions.

He also explained, you can reduce drying periods by tilting the plants sideways or upside down after you’re finished watering.

2. Water Catasetinae in the winter — Do it

Yeah, I know, this is sacrilegious in the world of Catasetinae care and this tidbit of information didn’t come from Fred, so you can ignore it if you’d like. I recommend this because, I’ve got one remaining Fdk. and the only reason it’s alive, while all my other Catasetinae died, is because I watered it in the winter. This doesn’t mean you water it abundantly and the same as your other plants. Water less often and don’t saturate the potting media, but still give it water at about 1/2 the amount every second week (no fertilizers during this time); only if you’re climate is super dry like mine—but ESPECIALLY if the most-recent bulb is looks severely shriveled.

3. Follow General Care and Culture for Catasetinae
(Catasetum, Clowesia, Cycnoches, Mormodes, etc)

  • When in active growth, water the hell out of them—literally flood them and give them generous waterings as they approach dryness. They live in areas that get seasonal monsoons after all.
  • Fertilize at every watering (when in active growth)—1/2 tsp/gallon (or 1/2 tsp / 3.75 L)
  • Use a standard orchid mix (sphagnum moss or your favourite bark mix) — if you’re growing dry, use sphagnum moss for sure, or add some to your bark mix. Sphagnum moss holds water around longer, so the roots get a chance to drink.
  • Repot/divide just as new growths start.
  • Don’t begin watering until the new growth has roots that are over 3-4″ long…
    Unless it’s dry and the pseudobulbs are shriveling, then water them a bit and keep the moss damp (but not soaking wet, because they’re not going to be sucking up the water very fast)!!

4. Brush up on Climate preferences for Catasetinae
(Catasetum, Clowesia, Cycnoches, Mormodes, etc)

  • Summer Temperature Range: 60-95F / 16-35C
  • Winter Temperature Ranges: 50-75F / 10-24C
  • Light: 2,000-4,000fc (Cattleya/Vanda levels)
  • Humidity: Who cares—we’re growing below the recommended humidity anyways 😉

5. Know the Growth Patterns for Catasetinae
(Catasetum, Clowesia, Cycnoches, Mormodes, etc)

  • Spring-Summer: Active Growth
  • Fall-Winter: Leaves fall off and plants bloom
  • 90% of roots apparently die during dormancy 🙁

That pretty much covers care of Catasetinae for those of you growing in dryer climates; I hope that helps. I will update this post as my experience evolves. If you want to read more about growing orchids in dry climates, check out my post on Phalaenopsis care.

Also, a big thank you to Fred Clarke for another great talk (and for bringing me some awesome plants!)

If you’re curious, I got…

  • SVO 6529 NEW
    Cycd. Spotted Hornet (Morm. Exotic Treat ‘SVO’ AM/AOS x Cyc. warscewiczii ‘SVO Swan’)
    Cycnodes (Cycd.) hybrids come from the combination of Cycnoches and Mormodes.  This type of primary hybrid gets the best qualities from both parents: the Mormodes is dominant for color, and the Cycnoches is dominant for shape.  Cycnodes hybrids have a proven track record, producing excellent quality flowers that garner lots of  AOS awards.  Spotted Hornet already has received an AM/AOS and a FCC/AOS!  Cyc. warscewiczii ‘SVO Swan’ has the highest flower quality, and the Exotic Treat (sinuata x tuxtlensis) has amazing color.  These are going to have bright yellow flowers with bold burgundy spotting, and the blooms will have excellent shape and size.  This grex has very high award potential!  Last year, I also offered the reciprocal cross, SVO 6489, allowing the rare opportunity to compare the influence of pod vs. pollen parent on the progeny.  Here are pictures of the awarded plants Pic 1 ,2
  • SVO 6892 NEW
    Cyc. New Hybrid (Cyc. Anne-Kathrin Berger ‘SVO’ x Cyc. Jean E. Monnier ‘Big and Bold’)
    The cross was made to develop a not-often-seen flower color – copper!  The Anne-Kathrin Berger (pentadactylon x herrenhusanum) has yellow flowers with red spots  – a very attractive color combination  – along with great flower form, high flower count and ease of plant growth. Jean E. Monnier (cooperi x barthiorum) has large flowers in a rich tan-bronze color with bold burgundy spots.  I love to see new developments in flower color, and I’m really looking forward to these!
  • SVO 6491
    Fdk. New Hybrid (Mo. Painted Desert ‘SVO’ HCC/AOS x Ctsm. Karen Armstrong ‘SVO’)
    This is a new direction in Fredclarkeara breeding!  Because of the Karen Armstrong influence, these plants will stay under 8” tall, making this a mini-Fredclarkeara!!!  Can you tell how excited I am??  We know that Painted Desert is influential in breeding, producing excellent form, color and flower longevity.  It is also a small-growing plant that matures at only 6” tall.  Here we’ve paired it with the mini-Catasetum Karen Armstrong (Susan Fuchs x denticulatum), with its bright yellow flowers covered in coalescing burgundy spots.  The combination will make this grex a real star!  Flower colors will range from deep red to spotted red/burgundy, and we expect excellent form, high flower count, and pleasing arrangement.  The plants will stay small and produce 2-3 inflorescences per bulb.  I am very anxious to see these bloom!
  • SVO 6911
    Clo. New Hybrid (Cl. Rebecca Northen ‘Grapefruit Pink’ x Ctsm. kleberianum ‘SVO’)
    Mini-Catasetums have been a successful new direction in breeding, and this year we’re trying some mini-Clowesetums.  The hybrid genus Clowesetum (Catasetum x Clowesia) is known for bloom longevity, with flowers lasting up to 4-5 weeks! Cl. Rebecca Northen (Grace Dunn x rosea) is a great parent and has been used in many successful hybrids.  Ctsm. kleberianum is a very rare Catasetum, and some suspect that it may be extinct in the wild.  It is a small-growing species with attractive flowers, sporting a flat bright yellow lip.  The plant size from this cross will be very compact, making these mini-Clowesetums – very cool!  This is a new direction in breeding, and predictions are a bit challenging.  The possibility is good for full-shaped flowers with spotting on the petals and sepals, and lips with pink to yellow color, but I would not be surprised to see light pink flowers with lots of darker pink spots.  As a bonus, these will flower 2 or 3 times a season.  I’m excited about the potential for this cross, and I’ll be keeping a watchful eye on these as they begin to bloom.
  • SVO 6718
    Fdk. New Hybrid (Fdk. No Doubt ‘Summer Wine’ x Ctsm. Orchidglade ‘Davie Ranches’ AM/AOS)
    At SVO we are all about developing flowers with new looks and colors, and there was no doubt about how good No Doubt (Mo. Painted Desert x Ctsm. Susan Fuchs) was going to be.  The flowers are rose-pink with a yellow lip, all covered in fine red spotting.  Take a look at the picture.  Orchidglade (pileatum x expansum) has large yellow flowers with red spots and a huge lip.  As a bonus, it is also a prolific bloomer, producing flowers 3-4 times a season.  With this cross, there will be new flower colors for a Fdk. hybrid.  We are expecting colors from rose to yellow with red spotting, and the lips will be broad and flattened.  These will also have large, long-lived flowers with great form and excellent arrangement.
  • Phal. Purple Martin ‘KS (Kung Sir)’
    (An auction plant)
  • Phal. Penang Girl (venosa ‘Dark Bronze’ x violacea ‘Brother’)
    (also an auction plant)

Photos of my Haul / Orchid loot 🙂