I have often heard cymbidium hybridisers claim that they will soon have cymbidium hybrids that will flower all year round. But this is possible now with a collection of cymbidium species, so where is the big change? All the plants I describe in this article are ones that I grow and that are available in Victoria. Unless stated otherwise, they will grow and flower without heat in Melbourne.
In January and February not many orchids are in flower but several of the thick-leafed cymbidiums are usually in bloom. One is Cymbidium aloifolium, the type species for the genus (which means that it was the first cymbidium described). It is appropriate that it should be the first species to flower, together with Cymbidium finlaysonianum, C. bicolor, C. atropurpureum and C. rectum. All of these species require heat and we therefore grow them with our cattleyas. Their need for heat is not surprising because they grow in the lowlands of Asia, often in full sunshine. However, C. suavissimum, which can be grown without heat, also flowers at this time. It is closely related to C. floribundum but it has upright spikes and produces its flowers about three months later than C. floribundum.
In March and April C. lancifolium comes into flower. Also known as C. aspidistrifolium, it forms a small plant with tapered leaves. Growing in leaf litter on the forest floor, each bulb develops on an ascending rhizome so that the plant is continually raised above the accumulation of leaf litter. Due to the altitude at which this plant grows in nature (up to 2300 m) it will grow cold in Melbourne.
In April and May a number of cymbidium species are in flower. One of my favourites is C. dayanum, which grows cold and is often still in bloom in July. It makes a good specimen in a 125 – 150 mm pot and produces a series of spikes over several months. Another species that flowers in April and May is C. erythraeum, its smaller plant size and flowers resembling those of C. iridioides.
The distinctive bell-shaped flowers of C. elegans, a strikingly different species, appear in May and June. C. erythrostylum also flowers at this time – it’s an outstanding species with white flowers and makes a charming specimen plant. It is an important parent in the breeding of many early-flowering standard cymbidiums.
In July C. tracyanum begins to flower and continues to produce its twisted, reflexed and highly scented flowers in light and dark brown shades until August. Its flowers have about every fault the judges would penalise in a cymbidium hybrid. C. iridioides (often known as C. giganteum) also flowers at this time. It is sometimes confused with C. tracyanum, even though both the plant and its flowers are quite different.
Come August and September and one of the gems of the orchid world, C. hookerianum, often known by its synonym, C. grandiflorum, comes into flower. It has celery-green foliage and large green flowers. Unfortunately many plants labelled as C. hookerianum are early hybrids but once you have seen the real species then the impostors are easy to pick. C. insigne flowers in September. Its flowers vary from pink to white; you can easily recognise its influence in many early standard cymbidium hybrids.
In September and October we see the flowers of C. sanderae, often also called C. parishii, although this is now thought to be a different species. C. sanderae has large spikes of cream – white flowers with heavily marked lips.
From September through to November you can see C. lowianum in flower. This is a large plant with long, arching spikes carrying many flowers, which are usually green, although a yellow form has been found. I have purchased many plants and later discarded them because of questionable leaf markings. Finding disease-free plants can be difficult because most plants of this species have been in cultivation for many years.
In October we have C. floribundum in flower. Also known as C. pumilum, this miniature species has been used to breed most miniature and intermediate cymbidium hybrids. Because of its small plant and small flowers, it makes an excellent specimen plant. At this time of year C. devonianum also flowers. It is also used to produce miniature- and intermediate-sized hybrids. It has large strap-like leaves and produces small flowers on pendulous spikes. In my experience C. devonianum grows best with a little heat in winter.
During November and December the Australian cymbidium species, C. suave, C. madidum and C. canaliculatum begin to flower. Only the first of these three species grows well in Melbourne without winter heat.
As you have seen, a collection of species cymbidiums will provide flowers all year round. With the exception of January and February you can do this with cool-growing plants. All of the species mentioned in this article have been collected in Melbourne by us over the last few years and are not uncommon. I have not mentioned those species that we have as yet to grow or flower successfully.