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  • Writer's pictureOrchid Muse

Maxillaria Memoria Ben Berliner

Maxillaria Memoria Ben Berliner is an orchid that can take a lot of abuse. (Wisconsin is Planet Hoth for about seven months a year, so my Star Wars figures fit.)

If you tend to overwater and leave your orchids on sunny, hot windowsills, this is the guy for you. It has grassy, happy foliage--pseudobulbs and leaves that tend to clump (rather than climb) and look great all year long, even when the orchid is not in bloom. Ben Berliner is fragrant, but needs to be warm for you to catch its scent. This Max is much more petite and well-behaved than than Maxillaria tenuifolia. Whereas Max ten tends to collapse on itself, Ben Berliner will stay upright for years. Striking, no?

There are several cultivars of this primary hybrid of Maxillaria variabilis and Maxillaria tenuifolia, and boy, do their flowers differ! I've seen all manner of spotted and bright yellow varieties, but the one I picked up from Carter and Holmes Orchids around 2016 is red--a beautiful rusty-colored and striking flower with a daintily spotted lip. Their cross was made from Maxillaria variabilis (gold) x Maxillaria tenuifolia aurea.

Orchid care and culture: Ideally this orchid receives bright light (the brighter, the more likely it will flower--"blasting" it with light like Maxillaria tenuifolia in late winter and early spring will usually bring on blooms in late spring. For me in Wisconsin, this means setting it in a southern window where it rarely gets full direct sun, but does have supplemental T5HO light through the dark days of winter.

Max. Ben Berliner loves water--the more the better, and growers will often tell you to sit the orchid in a shallow tray of water. Depending on your growing media, that can work--but I would only do this if it is planted in small to medium-size bark with perlite and charcoal and repotted regularly. Smaller divisions of this orchid have done equally well for me in damp (but not soggy) sphagnum moss. It can dry out for short periods of time, but on balance, it is an orchid that will appreciate all the water you can give it, short of drowning. It does well with a balanced orchid fertilizer containing macro- and micro-nutrients.

Maxillarias appreciate moderate humidity (at least 40%), but this orchid has done just fine with a few months of winter humidity in the low-teens for me. Its leaves thankfully aren't prone to mites, and the dryness doesn't damage the foliage.

I've said this before, but I'll say it again--I wish orchid retailers and growers would post pictures of the whole plant (or whole adult plant), as well as the blooms, on the regular. As an indoor grower, I'm a flower person and a form person. I like that grassy foliage just as much as I like its triangular blooms. If you're the same, you know the whole plant matters when deciding whether to welcome it into your home. With this one, it's fun pretending the foliage is huge and from a foreign planet.


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