Psychopsis papilio is one of those species that has a rather bad reputation for being difficult to grow, perhaps not unfairly. My plant is the more unusual ‘alba’ form, and was given to me by a friend, so I would feel especially guilty if it died through any fault of mine. He had it growing in a mixture of medium bark and perlite, which seemed to suit it under his culture conditions (he grows his plants slightly cooler than I do, so it might be that his slightly drier mixture works better under cooler conditions).
Since it arrived with me, the plant struggled on, but clearly wasn’t getting enough water. I’d often read that the plant dislikes repotting and remaining damp at the roots, so I was a bit frightened of doing anything to it. This was particularly perplexing, since the roots seemed perfectly fine, but the foliage was losing its succulence.
In the meantime, I purchased, at an orchid show, another Psychopsis that was potted in pure sphagnum moss, as indeed, many imports from the far east are. I potted this new arrival in a mixture of bark and moss, and it has since begun to grow very quickly (for a Psychopsis, at least) and has continued to do so ever since.
Encouraged by this, I took the plunge and repotted my friend’s plant, flower spike and all, into a mixture of 75% medium bark chips and 25% dried and rehydrated sphagnum moss. And guess what? The plant has now plumped up and is showing strong root growth. I had never before seen Psychopsis grow like this, especially for a plant that is reputed to really dislike root disturbance. This certainly hasn’t been my experience of it at all.
Having the plant ‘much happier’ at the root zone has resulted in quite substantially larger and longer lasting flowers. This may not be much of a surprise, but I was very pleased to see it nevertheless.
The moral of this story is really never to take what you read about any orchid at face value because they all react in different ways to different conditions. It is always worth experimenting, especially if you have duplicate plants.
Psychopsis are rather slow-growing, and only do so at certain times of the year, though root growth seems fairly consistent so far. The inflorescences are tall and rather spindly, but don’t be fooled. They are very strong indeed and don’t really need staking, except to keep them upright. Apparently, in nature they are buffeted almost constantly by strong winds and never break. Flowers are rather large and held well above the foliage. They are produced singly from the tip of the inflorescence, with one bloom dropping as the next is ready to open. Inflorescences should not be cut off until they are quite dead, as they will continue to bloom for several years if left alone, even while new pseudobulbs produce newer ones.
The normal form of the species has flowers that are basically yellow with chestnut overlay, or possibly chestnut with yellow overlay depending on how you perceive it. The alba form has bright yellow flowers though, with a hint of patterning in lighter and darker shades, but it retains the bizarre insectiform appearance that is common to all Psychopsis.