The Small, the Mini- and the Micro-orchids.
I have grown orchids for many years either in dedicated glasshouses, growing cases, or on windowsills, the large, the medium, and the small, from across many genera and all temperature ranges. Currently, I have a modest mixed collection in a greenhouse environment, although by now my main interest is growing a variety of orchid species from seed, and more recently from tissue culture.
For the last few years, I have been interested in the smallest of orchids, the tiny epiphytes from around the world. There are a great number of them across many orchid genera, but in this short series, I will show you a few of the ones that I have in cultivation and hope to encourage you to search them and their kin out and appreciate them for the little gems that they are.
Most of these diminutive plants will need a high humidity level, which can be challenging to achieve, particularly in the home environment, so I will also be showing you some of the solutions that I use to satisfy the requirements of the mini- and micro-orchids; ideas that should allow you to grow them virtually anywhere in the home or glasshouse ……. more of that in later articles.
The first mini-orchid that I would like to introduce you to is Lepanthes lucifer. Many of the species from this genus have small but brightly coloured flowers which are quite complex in form… Lepanthes lucifer, (Satan’s Lepanthes.. probably named for its colour and for the two ‘horns’ borne by the flower) is a favourite of mine. Whilst it is not the smallest of the genus in stature, it is remarkable for the intensity of flower colour …. a true red with greenish ‘horns’ …. and for the size of the flower, considered quite large by Lepanthes standards.
The genus Lepanthes is large with at least 1000 species currently recognized. Most but not all are small and occur in the cloud forests of the Antilles and South America. Lepanthes lucifer is endemic to Ecuador. An epiphyte that grows on moss-covered trunks and branches, its slender arial stems (ramicauls) arise from a crowded, rhizomatous clump. The ramicaul carries a single, quite large leaf which is dark green above and purple beneath. This is somewhat fleshy, coriaceous, and quite rough in texture making it interesting and attractive in its own right and, once it reaches maturity, a node just below the leaf lamina will produce flowers. Lepanthes spp. require no resting period, so ramicauls and flowers are produced all year round.
The flowering stems or peduncles are hair-thin and eventually produce dark red flowers which rest on the upper surface of the leaf. These stems develop several blooms that open sequentially, each lasting several days. Flowering stems can emerge several at a time or individually over a given period, so the plant is rarely without flowers.
Once the old flower stems have come to the end of their life they dry and remain on the leaf, but very often a keiki … a small new plant … is formed by vegetive reproduction at the junction of the leaf lamina and flower stems. These can either be encouraged to root alongside the parent plant or carefully given a mount or small pot of their own.
Another interesting and common feature of this genus, as seen on Lepanthes lucifer, is the ‘Lepantheform sheath’. These sheaths are formed on the developing ramicauls, but once the leaf has reached maturity, they slowly dry becoming a persistent feature.
Having no pseudobulbs, Lepanthes lucifer is prone to desiccation and must be kept moist and provided with high humidity at all times. If the humidity drops too low then flower buds either will not form or they will dry out and abscise without opening. Never let this plant dry out completely… it may well die. Many species of Lepanthes grow in the high cloud forest and require cool conditions, but Lepanthes lucifer prefers to grow a little warmer with a minimum of around 15°C (59°F). It does not require high light levels, and should not be exposed to direct sunlight at any time, but it does appreciate air movement. It will grow well under a suitable artificial light source, but can only adapt to the home environment if you are able to maintain high humidity and air movement in a growing case or Orchidarium.
|Lepanthes lucifer flower, measuring approximately 12mm across tips of lower sepals||Lpths. lucifer flower side view, measuring approximately 12mm from the tip of the upper sepal to the tip of the lower sepal.|
Plant habit. This plant measures approximately 7.5cms from rhizome to the tip of the upper leaf.
|Plant habit. This plant measures approximately 6cms from the rhizome to the tip of the middle leaf.||Lepanthiform sheaths on a new ramicaul. The ramicaul measures approximately 4.2cms from the rhizome to the tip.|