This month, I thought I’d feature an orchid that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Eulophia guineensis has been a favourite of mine for quite a few years, and after I started to re-build my collection six years ago, I made sure I found one. Well two, actually! The entire Eulophia genus is grossly underrepresented in many collections; these plants have a somewhat fearsome reputation as being fussy and difficult to bloom. This may be true for some cultivars, but my experiences with Eulophia guineensis have generally been good.
Eulophia guineensis is quite a widespread species native to Central Africa and the Arabian peninsula. From what I can gather, plants are vegetatively quite variable, although I have not seen any vastly different specimens in cultivation. In keeping with its wide distribution, it seems quite tolerant of a variety of growing methods. These plants grow as terrestrials and have very robust, thick, white roots of an unusual texture that reminds me of popcorn or polystyrene. They don’t seem to be fussy about the growth medium, growing equally well in bark chips or a denser mix. This year, I am using my standard houseplant mix which consists of equal quantities of multi-purpose compost, orchid propagating bark and coarse grit (although in my case, I use chipped plastic which I get from my work for free, works just as well and is much lighter). Temperatures are warm, and I water copiously when the plants are growing. Leaves drop during autumn, and at this time I stop watering altogether, giving nothing until plants resume growth in February. I have heard that these plants can be shy to bloom and I think the reason for this is watering when they are resting. Giving water during winter seems to do no actual harm and neither does it cause the plants to break their dormancy early; it just seems to prevent them from blooming. I don’t keep the plants any cooler during winter, a cool period doesn’t seem to be necessary, and besides, I assume that cool temperatures would have an adverse effect, given the place of origin of the species.
I am very pleased with the overall form of this flower, good shape and colour to the lip (I have seen them with much more white than this, and some are a good deal narrower). The upwardly pointing tepals always remind me of a little crown – quite endearing. Another feature of this species that I like is the upwardly pointing nectar spur.
I have two plants of this species. The first (the plant photographed) is labelled Eulophia quartiana x E. guineensis. As I understand it, Eulophia quartinana is a synonym for Eulophia guineensis, so I guess it is simply a cross of two forms of the same species which might explain the nice flower shape and colour. This plant has put out one growth and two flower spikes, bearing ten flowers in total. The other plant (labelled simply Eulophia guineensis) has put out three new growths and only one flower spike. I shall be interested in comparing the flowers of the two plants, but I have a couple of weeks to wait for that, alas.
Once it has finished blooming, I will pot this plant on into a larger pot. It is tempting to remove a backbulb for propagating, but the plant is a little young for that as yet, and I would like to grow it on for a couple of years before I consider encouraging more lead growths. Also, it has been my experience that the plants resent being disturbed. Potting on seems fine, but removing backbulbs doesn’t seem to be. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that disturbing the plants kills them – it doesn’t. However, disturbing them does seem to prevent flowering. I am hoping that the flower count will increase in future, especially as this species seems capable of producing multiple spikes per pseudobulb.
I’ve probably made it’s cultivation sound far more difficult than it actually is. All we need to remember to get this plant blooming regularly is to keep it dry over winter and not to disturb its roots too much. In many respects it’s rather like growing a Catasetum – strongly seasonal with a distinct rest period. I’ve read that it does well under a variety of light conditions, although I haven’t experimented with this. My only real word of warning is that this species may be attacked by scale insects during the rest period, and spider mites are fond of the soft foliage. I spray with a soap solution, and that seems to keep them both under control.