I always look forward to summer and the extravagant flowering of this band of orchids at a time when other flowers are scarce. This dynamic quartet comprises Lycaste aromatica, L. cochleata, L. deppei and L. cruenta.

Lycaste aromatica and L. deppei are found in the more mountainous areas of Mexico, Guatemala and Nicaragua, while L. cochleata and L. cruenta tend to be confined to Mexico and Guatemala, extending to El Salvador in the case of L. cruenta. As each species is subject at times to quite low temperatures, they are able to cope with the vagaries of Melbourne’s weather. In this regard, although their individual habitats may differ, they can be grown together in shadehouse culture.

New growth for these species commences in mid to late spring and bulbs are matured by late autumn. Watering and feeding should follow this pattern and during their dormant period (winter) plants should receive little if any water. Because their large, soft leaves are subject to sunburn, lycaste plants should be grown in a cool, shady position over summer with plenty of air movement. During winter these plants are best protected from the elements by a hard cover.

Lycaste deppei is a personal favourite. In my conditions it flowers on the new growths in mid-January, producing from each new growth two or three large (80 -100 mm) olive-green flowers overlaid with tiny brown spots. The small white petals provide a striking contrast with the lightly spotted yellow labellum. The flowers of L. deppei are upright, perky, long lasting and have a faint but sweet perfume. Although not deciduous, the plants should be given a rest over winter.

Lycaste aromatica produces an abundance of small yellow flowers, also in January. Each emerging new growth has four or more flowers and a large plant can carry a mass of flowers that provide a lemon perfume on hot days. L. aromatica tends to be deciduous and plants may lose all or some of their leaves over winter. It is best to winter the plant in a protected spot and to recommence watering in spring only when the new growths are obvious. Provide a cool, shady spot over summer and plenty of air movement for best results.

Lycaste cochleata produces small flowers in late January, which at around 50 mm across are slightly larger than are those of L. aromatica. The flowers have yellow-green sepals and yellow-orange petals and labellum, are long lasting and most attractive. The labellum is a feature, being quite broad in comparison with that of L. aromatica. Otherwise the two species are similar in growth habit and cultural requirements, and grow and flower well in Melbourne.

Lycaste cruenta produces yellow-orange flowers that are remarkably similar in overall colour to L. cochleata, but at around 80 mm across are significantly larger. A distinguishing feature is a small reddish-brown blotch at the base of the labellum. The lightly scented flowers are produced in early summer almost at the same time as the new growths commence. At this time it is common to lose buds or for the buds to not open fully, if at all. In other years the growth may be excellent yet the flowering non-existent. This suggests that successful flowering may be sensitive to local climatic conditions. The deciduous growth habit of L. cruenta is similar to both L. aromatica and L. cochleata, and the same general culture can be followed.

Be careful when handling L. aromatica, L. cochleata and L. cruenta. While the green bulbs are quite attractive and rather innocent looking, they carry two sharp spines at the extremities where the old leaves have separated. Some growers clip these spines to avoid personal injury.