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  • Writer's pictureOrchid Muse

Encyclia cordigera

Sometimes your orchids forgive you.

Encyclia cordigera was the first non-phalaenopsis orchid I owned, and I have many missteps to atone for. I bought it in 2011 as an impulse buy in my first online orchid order. I was otherwise there to buy species (non-hybrid) phalaenopsis. As one does, I had improved my moth orchid game to the extent that I wanted to try some fancier flowers...and mistakenly believed my skills might transfer into other orchid genera. This encyclia was on sale, had intriguing flowers, and promised an "intoxicating" scent. Sold!

So I threw the seedling (it might have had two or three teeny pea-sized pseudobulbs) in with my phals. And then I waited. And I didn't water correctly. And there was nowhere near enough light for it to thrive. Yet it graced me with new pseudobulbs spottily for six or seven years--while also losing (more likely, rotting) old ones. It hung on during a very long period of all manner of abuse.

Encyclia cordigera two years before it bloomed.

And then, a few years ago, I began to read widely about encyclia, invested in a new lighting system, and repurposed my seedling heat mats for my warm-growing orchids. Quickly, things got much more interesting--mostly because those little green babies flourished.

With correct lighting, Encyclia cordigera's new pseudobulbs started to double, then triple, their size in comparison to the old. Leaves grew from three inches long to 12 inches long. Starting to get excited, I was still waiting for blooms--two of the young bifoliate pseudobulbs seemed to start to produce mini inflorescences, but stopped.

Then get this--and imagine the excitement--NINE YEARS after I originally bought the plant, it bloomed. (Which makes my relationship with this plant longer than the one I had with my first husband, but I'll leave that there.) An important lesson: the gracefully conical pseudobulb that finally bloomed produced three leaves instead of the two that all other younger pseudobulbs grew. It began spiking in late February and bloomed in early May. Its flower spike grew to a foot long before buds started to form; the anticipation nearly killed me.

Worth the wait.

Its first inflorescence carried six gorgeous flowers, with a scent that is a mix of deep, ruddy rose, tropical sweetness, and a hint of vanilla. Some growers describe it as chocolatey. Different color forms and cultivars of this orchid can have varying scents; this one is certainly not "chocolatey" like Oncidium Sharry Baby, anyway. I think I lucked out on the cultivar--it bears a clean bubblegum-colored lip, indicative of a high-quality orchid (meaning it could be officially judgeable by the American Orchid Society). I love its mahogany sepals and petals--the color palette seems sophisticated yet happy at the same time. Their curling shape also has a hint of the alien to it--this is enhanced by its neon-green petal edges, as well as the chartreuse transition from the reproductive column to the axis. From there, the rest of the coffee-colored petals take flight.

A backlit beauty.

As I've finally realized, the secret to this orchid is high light. Most growers detail 3,000 footcandles, but I push it higher, until the pseudobulbs just begin to show red anthocyanin spotting. This is the sign that the light is high enough that the orchid begins to give itself a suntan for protection. Leaves should be light green (almost yellowy green, like the picture below), not deep green (like the mistreated seedling pictured above). For me, this means I have the leaves within inches of an LED shoplight over winter. Of course, gradually increase light week by week so that its leaves don't burn.

Notice the reddish tinge to the tops of the pseudobulbs.

Encyclia cordigera thrives in consistent warmth and wildly changing seasons of rainfall. In the wild, from December through March, it receives less than half an inch of rain per month. In the warm season (May through October) it receives seven to 13 inches of rain per month. Shoulder months of April and November should see less than two inches of water during transition time. In winter, the key is a long, dry winter rest. Since I can provide consistent humidity at 60-80% in my warm grow tent, I really don't water at all in deep winter. Obviously, if you're not watering much, the plant won't be growing much, and thus does not need nutrients either. For temperature, keep nighttime lows above 60F and daytime highs below 95F.

Encyclia cordigera's leaves and inflorescence are arching and stately.

Even with its thin roots, because of its long dry period alternating with a very wet summer, Encyclia cordigera needs an open, fast-draining, and fast-drying mix. I use a medium-size cattleya mix with chunky bark, medium perlite, and a bit of pumice/leca/lava rock.

Cordigera is new-world tropical orchid is native to Mexico, Cuba, and Central America, as well as into Brazil. Encyclia cordigera had dozens of previous names--it seems many orchid hunters found this orchid and repeatedly attempted to rename it throughout the 19th century. Name changes were still rampant through the 1950s, but finally stabilized in the 1960s. The fully pink form like this one used to be known as Epidendrum atropurpureum, but now all color forms bear the same name.

In Latin, cordigera means "wearing a cord" or "wearing a heart." And now that I look closer, its lip does indeed look like a curled upside-down heart. I'm so glad this orchid wore a heart for me for so long--and that I can now finally return the favor.


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