• Orchid Muse

Cattlianthe/Slc. Jewel Box 'Dark Waters'

I am not, in general, a lover of cattleya orchids. But this orchid--this one gorgeous, easy, electric-red little number--has turned me. It's been winning awards (AM/AOS) for decades and smells like roses. Simply divine.


It's so steamy red, it's difficult to capture the color correctly. Imagine a color in between the ones you see above and below (it's the same orchid, same blooms). It packs a lot of punch for a compact plant.

Its old designation, Slc., is short for Sophrolaeliocattleya, which means botanists thought it was an intergeneric hybrid of sophronitis, laelia, and cattleya. Its name was then changed to Cattlianthe because they later found it has DNA from two ancestral genera, cattleya and guarianthe, and no other genera. This makes Jewel Box orchids a hybrid of orchids found in Central and South America.


This plant had a single bloom when I bought it in March 2017; it was blooming again--with three flowers on one pseudobulb--by February 2018. It's been a reliable bloomer ever since.


I give it medium light year-round: in a shady greenhouse in summer, under florescent lights (and I mean right up under the lights--just inches beneath them) in winter. I grow it in fairly chunky bark and perlite. Air movement and humidity above 40% are important. I use MSU formula fertilizer and water liberally in summer, but water and fertilize much less during winter. I have read that it's important not to over-water cattleya intergenerics when they are in sheath; I had a scare with this one, but the orchid pulled through and put on a great show for more than a month.


In fact, I just realized this orchid is the same color as my Senior Prom dress from decades ago--the one dress I ever wore to any dance that was not black. Formal a-lines and LBDs for me all the way, except for the one time I chose a fire-engine red fit-and-flare. Because it was perfect. Because it was dangerous waters. Because it had a story. While it was an outlier, I never regretted it. It was the precursor to the one pair of strappy, cherry-red, cork-wedge sandals I now own as an adult, the pair that scream happiness and summer.


Every time this orchid blooms, I get requests from friends for a chunk of it. In orchids, good dresses, and in shoes, summer can never arrive too soon.

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