Brassavola nodosa has to be one of my all-time favourite orchids. I have had my plant for quite a while, and I have no idea where it originally came from. The species hails from Mexico to as far south as Colombia and northern Venezuela, and grows at low elevations (below about 500m) in mangroves and occasionally, on exposed cliffs. When I first got it, I mounted it on a piece of Buddleja wood and got good results for several years. During that time, I grew all my orchids much cooler than I do now, and B. nodosa does need to be kept much drier if it is grown under cool conditions. In its native habitat, it always grows in warm or hot areas and it does seem to perform better when grown warm. However, once I switched to the warmer conditions I have now, B. nodosa started to decline. It still grew and flowered, but not so robustly as before. I put it down to it being too dry. I even tried planting the mount in a pot of bark chips, but the plant didn’t send any roots into the pot. Several months ago, I removed the plant from its mount, divided it, and potted the divisions. The change couldn’t have been more marked. The foliage has plumped up, roots are growing and the plant is now in bloom again. It is my hope that as the plants establish in their new pots, more new growths will start to give me fuller plants.
Despite being a member of the Cattleya alliance, Brassavola nodosa really couldn’t look less like a Cattleya if it tried. The foliage is thick, leathery and narrow (semi-terete), though I find the foliage looks less terete when the plant is kept well watered. Pseudobulbs are reduced to a thin stem, a couple of inches long, and it seems that the leaves have taken on the role of water-storage organ.
Brassavola nodosa enjoys bright light, and plants grown in very bright natural light may well take on a purplish tinge, which means that the plant is at its maximum tolerance for light. It appreciates strong air movement, especially when grown at higher temperatures. High humidity is also appreciated, though in my experience, it doesn’t seem essential for pot- grown plants. Plants should be kept well watered while they are actively growing, with only a very short, dry rest to induce blooming (so I read, though my plants bloom regardless of what I do, perhaps because I tend not to keep them too wet).
The flowers are produced from the top of the pseudobulb on a fairly long (compared to the size of the plant) stiffly erect spike. Some cultivars may produce up to six flowers per spike, but I typically get two or three. The sepals and petals are spidery and pale green, while the lip is white and widely flared. Some plants have delicate spotting in the throat of the flower, but my plants do not have this. The spotting, where present, is one of the features that make this species so interesting for breeding purposes because it is not only transferred to the progeny, but appears to be even more pronounced in the hybrids. Flower shape and spotting are usually inherited from B. nodosa, whereas colour typically comes from the other parent.
The most noticeable feature of this species though, is the amazing scent which is present only at night, and which gives the species the common name of ‘Lady of the Night’ (a somewhat dubious honour, really!).