Coelogyne flaccida 'Q'
Updated: Feb 9, 2019
Coelogynes are oddities to me. As I write this, I own only two of them. Both have been fairly easy to bloom—spiking and putting on wonderful shows well before I had owned them for a year. But their culture and blooming habits are different enough from other orchids that they seem otherworldly.
I originally had Coelogyne flaccida, aka the “loose coelogyne,” on my to-buy list because I had heard that it was one of the easier coelogynes to grow. But when I saw that this cultivar’s name was ‘Q’, reminiscent of one of the best, most odd, and challenging characters from one of my favorite TV series of all time, Star Trek: The Next Generation, I knew this orchid was for me. (Apologies to anyone reading this that is only a nerd in the realm of orchidaceae. I have several additional layers of nerdery I filter life through. Science fiction and 1990s TV series are but two more in my nerd wheelhouse.)
I immediately liked this coelogyne for its pseudobulb and leaf form, its color, as well as the thickness of its leaves. (I generally prefer thicker leaves, because they resist spotting in low air-flow environments.) The leaves stretch to the sky, but are not so large that they won’t fit under grow lights happily with several other medium-sized orchids. The grower I bought Coel. flaccida from recommended growing it in straight sphagnum moss. I do, but I opted for a thick layer of leca beads at the bottom of the pot so it wouldn’t become waterlogged. This mix has worked like a charm: it transports water to the roots, but also keeps the roots aerated at the bottom.
Coelogyne is defined as a cool to intermediate-growing orchid. Basic cultural requirements include daytime highs below 80 F year-round, and ideal winter nights are chilly: 45-55 F. It is happy in medium light (“cattleya light”) and needs plenty of water during the summer. Humidity of 40-60% is sufficient. Endemic to the Himalayas, it thrives in summer monsoons, but needs a several-month cool and dry rest in winter. By dry, I mean DRY. For three months--roughly October, November and December—the media was bone dry, but I sprayed the leaves and pseudobulbs until they dripped once a week. The pseudobulbs shrunk a bit, but didn’t fully shrivel.
Many coelogynes lose their leaves in fall. I was really worried, then, when only one pair of leaves on the oldest pseudobulb browned and fell. Why weren’t the rest following suit? What was I doing wrong? It turns out that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. After that three-month dry, cool spell, it began to push multiple spikes, which developed very quickly. For this orchid, it’s worked for me to begin watering the orchid lightly once the spikes are 1-2 inches long. Then, in the matter of a week or two—boom!—you’ve got flowers. Like other coelogynes (and unlike many other orchid types), Coel. flaccida blooms all at once.
It’s at this moment that ‘Q,’ much like the best ST:TNG villain of all time, cannot be ignored. Its scent is unlike any other orchid I’ve smelled—it’s musky, almost musty, spicy, and starts off quite sweet. I called my husband in from the next room to help me describe the smell, and he said, “well, I could already smell it from in there.” The scent spreads far, and sticks around both night and day. Our noses came to the conclusion that it smells most like a daffodil with body odor. A commenter on this post says it smells like horse. It’s not unpleasant, but I don’t think I’d want to make a perfume from it! Let’s just say it smells very alive. And it seems to get stronger as the weeks go on.
The strength of the scent, as well as its combination of fragrant compounds, attract many insects in the wild. Scientists in Nepal, after just one week of study, concluded that ants, wasps, moths, and three types of butterflies all visited Coel. flaccida--but only the eastern honeybee (Apis cerana) pollinated it. If there is one downside to this coelogyne, it is that its flowers don't last long. (But if you grow it to specimen size, the successive inflorescences will greatly extend the flowering period.) Like many other orchids (and other flowers in nature), it follows the general rule that the stronger the scent, the shorter the life of the flowers. It takes a lot of biological resources to exude scent--a fourth dimension of its allure!
Coelogyne flaccida has kept its original scientific name since it was assigned in 1830, and that alone puts it in rare company. It put me through some mental gymnastics, much like Q did to Picard. This orchid may not bend space and time like John de Lancie did, but it is a playful, odd, lovely, and very worthy member of the orchid Q Continuum.