We are now seeing a few more Lycaste
species from time-to-time, and accordingly, I thought that it might be
time to undertake a little research about this genus.
They are popular because the flowers are long lasting, and unlike some
other genera, come in a wide range of colours. Few orchids rival a well
grown specimen such as Lycaste skinnerii . In the past, they have
been considered difficult to grow, however this myth has largely been
dispelled with better understanding of their habitat and cultural needs.
Lycaste species and hybrids have been grown in cultivation for
more than 170 years
The genus Lycaste has been revised many times over the past 150
years since Lindley separated it from Maxillara in 1843. Most recently,
Fowlie's 1970 monograph The Genus Lycaste, Its Speciation, Distribution,
Literature and Cultivation - A Monographic Revision identified the
many difficulties with classification of this genus, and it appears that
the debate still continues. Almost more interesting is that Lindley did
not say why he chose the name Lycaste (other than his note "A
fanciful name. Lycaste was a beautiful woman"). Despite many
reviews since, no-one has been able to more accurately clarify his reasoning
for naming the genus thus.
Henry Oakeley who holds the UK National Scientific collection of Lycaste,
Ida and Anguloa recently published his seminal work Lycaste,
Ida and Anguloa - The Essential Guide in 2008 (it is in our library).
There continues to be debate about the type species - variously reported
as L macrophylla or L plana. Oakeley clarifies this confusion
when reduces L plana to a colour form of L macrophylla.
He notes that Dr Fowlie's work contains many incorrectly named plants
in the three genera Lycaste, Ida and Anguloa. However,
this problem is not just Dr Fowlie's
The genus Lycaste is endemic to the Central Americas, between the
Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras,
Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil,
West Indies, Jamaica and Cuba. Most commonly found in forest regions between
sea level and 3000m, growing either epiphytically, lithophytically or
terrestrially, they inhabit a wide variety of climates ranging from cloud
forests to regions with pronounced wet and dry seasons. Some species such
as L macrophylla can be found from 700-2800m elevation. Therefore,
the deciduous Lycastes can very successfully be grown in a shadehouse
31 species, 14 natural hybrids and 29 varieties have been identified by
Oakley, several published for the first time using DNA sequencing.
Several Lycaste species including L aromatica, L cruenta, L deppei,
L lassioglossa, L locusta, L macrophylla and L tricolor are
relatively common in mixed collections in Australia. Lycaste hybrids
are widely grown and much of the early hybridising in Australia was carried
out by Fred Alcorn who did much to reintroduce this genus to Australian
This genus has large plicate leaves, clustered ovoid pseudobulbs and multiple
lateral inflorescences. Accordingly, mature plants of the larger members
of the genus require substantial space due to leaf width and span. Flowering
takes place when the new growth is half grown. A feature of most Lycaste
species is the spines at the leaf abscission point. These spines are said
to offer some protection to the plant against foraging herbivores - they
certainly can surprise the unwary grower!
Oakeley identifies 4 sections; aromaticae, intermediae, skinneri and
lycaste. Fowlie also identified 4 sections; Deciduosae, Macrophyllae,
Fimbriatae and Longisepalae based upon floral and other vegetative
characteristics, although Oakeley asserts, this treatment was not validly
published. You may wonder, how is this relevant? In my view, it helps
explain some of the never-ending, frustrating (to anyone but a taxonomist)
taxonomic revision of orchid nomenclature.
Adrian and Deanna's Lycaste
However, to focus on what seems more useful to us as enthusiasts, both
Alcorn and the San Francisco Orchid Society have some thoughts about Lycaste
Alcorn says that it is important to remember that Lycaste is a
cool-growing species, and does not need the heating that Phalaenopsis
or Vanda generally require during our winter months, unless
your area is susceptible to frosts. (minimum 4-5§C). However, during
our extremely hot summer months, they will need some cooling at least
in the evenings, and additional protection from the sun if you wish to
avoid leaf damage. Similarly, Lycaste orchids appreciate higher
humidity - if you are growing in a shadehouse in summer, you will need
to make some arrangement to maintain humidity during the day.
With the exception of summer months, in suburbia 50% shadecloth should
be OK, although in summer a second layer may be required. An alternative
(that we employ) is to place them among other taller plants such as Cymbidiums
that provide some shade, or under orchids or other plants in hanging baskets
(although this can be a problem in winter if the baskets drip onto your
Lycaste plants. In the Swan Valley, we use 70% shadecloth all year
round as we have quite bright light. Leaf colour should be light to yellowish
Air circulation is also critical (as it is with almost all orchid species).
As Lycastes are principally epiphytes, they need good air movement
throughout the year (another reason to grow them in a shadehouse with
a plastic cover during winter). Shelter also needs to be provided when
they are coming into flower to avoid flower damage.
Various mediums are proposed including sphagnum moss, pine bark, tree
fern fibre, coconut chips coarse river sand, charcoal, perlite and so
the list goes on. As a general rule, they will grow well in a similar
mix to your Cymbidium orchids, and if you are growing these plants
well, you have your cultural conditions well under control. The one major
difference of which I am aware is the use of lumps of Styrofoam or Styrofoam
peanuts as crocking on the bottom of the pots to aid drainage. This is
beneficial as mature plants need to be somewhat drier after flowering
before new growth commences, otherwise the new growth may rot.
Squat pots seem to be most suitable for Lycaste as they are not
deep rooted species and do not grow very tall, so don't require the additional
weight to keep them from falling over, however be careful not to overpot.
When repotting Lycaste, it is important to avoid damage to the
root system while moving any old dead roots. Therefore, the best time
to repot is when the new growth has started (6-12 cm tall) and new roots
appear. This will avoid shrivelling and compromised flowering.
Lycaste appreciates regular fertilising with a balanced regime
that includes both organic and inorganic products. The most successful
growers of this genus fertilise regularly (weakly weekly) with higher
nitrogen from midwinter to mid summer, and high potash from midsummer
to mid winter. Alcorn also recommends Epsom Salts and Chelate of Iron.
Naturally, Lycaste orchids appreciate
rainwater given the increasing amount of dissolved salts in our scheme
water. If rainwater isn't an option, ensure that once a fortnight, you
water very heavily (perhaps by hand) to flush out any salt build up in
your pots. Evidence of salt build up can be seem by a white crust on top
of the media, or around the rim of the pot, although this can also be
calcium from hard water .
Most often, the pest and diseases are sap-sucking insects such as scale,
mealy bug, two-spotted mite, aphids, and molluscs such as slugs and snails.
For the sap-sucking insects, good culture will generally eliminate the
problem, although there are a range of organic products available now
that do far less damage to both the grower and the environment - the downside
is that you will need to use them more often. The seaweed tonics now widely
available can assist by helping build stronger, disease and pest resistant
In Part 2, I will research some of the more commonly available species,
and in Part 3, those are less common in collections.
THE WORLD OF LYCASTE ORCHIDS
Part 2. Some of the More Common Lycaste
Ure Skinner in in 1842,and is often misidentified
as Lycaste aromatica due to its coloration.
In fact, Lindley in 1840 first described
it as Maxillara skinneri. It occurs as a lithophyte, terrestrial
or epiphyte in Southern Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador at 1000-1800m
altitude in dry-humid forests. It is a variable species with several distinct
varieties that vary in colour from yellow through yellow orange and occasional
yellow green sepals. The species name cruenta is Latin for blood coloured
referring to the red spotting at the base of the lip. This species has
a strong cinnamon scent during bright daylight. The following image is
from Wikimedia Commons and shows Lycaste cruenta at the Berlin
Botanical Gardens - Orchid Exhibition.
The flowers of this species are strongly phototropic growing so that they
face the sun, making them more visible to pollinators such as euglossine
bees which are attracted by the cinnamon pheromones.
Like most members of this genus, it needs heavy watering and light shade
(50% shadecloth) in summer, but protection from rain in winter when dormant
to prevent bulb rot unless the pseudobulbs shrivel in which case light
watering is indicated. Once the plant shows active growth of either flower
buds or new leaves, water and fertilise more frequently.
Lycaste cruenta is generally resistant
to many of the common insect pests, although the new, soft leaves are
easily damaged by the sun. It is equally happy grown in either well-drained
pot or slab culture (provided you can maintain humidity during summer)
and being predominantly lithophytic, would probably be OK in a garden
setting provided it can be given shelter in winter.
Lycaste lassioglossa is also quite common in local collections,
and can often be obtained from sales tables or our silent auction. This
species has a more spectacular flower with shiny brown sepals in contrast
with yellow petals and a bearded labellum flushed red.
This robust species is found in Mexico, Honduras and Cost Rica, epiphytic
or lithophytic at altitudes of 800-1600m in warm humid forests. Identified
by Reichenbach in 1872, the name is derived from the Greek for hairy
tongue. For those interested in breeding, the brown colour of the
sepals is due to red pigment in the epidermis on the front side of the
sepal overlying green pigment. As a result, this species has been widely
used in breeding dark red show Lycastes with Lycaste skinneri (similar
pigmentation occurs in Lycaste macrophylla). Lycaste lassioglossa
is one of the simpler species to grow under similar conditions to those
identified for Lycaste cruenta. The following image from Alan Blacks
Orchid Photo pages demonstrates the shiny character of the sepals. Lycaste
lassioglossa does not have the spines on the leafless pseudobulbs
that Lycaste cruenta and some other species display. Lycaste
tricolor is smaller-flowered species from Central America, growing
as an epiphyte in rainforest at 700-1000m altitude. Identified by Reichenbach,
it is named for the three colours present in the flower - beige, white
and pink, although these colours are not distinct and often merge into
a pale pink. This species needs more sun than the previous two species
described, as its natural habitat is open tropical forest with high light.
It is said to require some heat and needs tobe kept drier in our cold,
dark, wet winter months.
The plentiful, long-lasting flowers (up
to 8 per pseudobulb) arise from the base of the mature pseudobulbs, so
a mature plant can literally be ringed by flowers. As shown the following
image from Jay Pfahls Orchid Species Website.
Like Lycaste lassioglossa, this species also does not have the
spines on the leafless pseudobulbs that Lycaste cruenta and some other
species display. The last species that I will cover in the section of
the articles is Lycaste aromatica which is also reasonably common
in local collections. It was the first Lycaste to be described
and is one of the simplest to grow and flower. As noted earlier, this
species is often confused with Lycaste cruenta. It occurs from
Southern Mexico through Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador
(but not Costa Rica nor further south.
Lycaste aromatica is named for its profuse cinnamon/clove-scented
flowers . The strong perfume is more pronounced when the plant is in sunshine.
Up to 20 flowers appear from each mature pseudobulb, literally covering
the plant in flowers. The misidentification occurs despite the distinctive
slender flowers and large callus (even George Ure Skinner misidentified
This species is primarily epiphytic, growing at altitudes of 700-2,000
m in damp, cool oak woodlands, or occasionally lithophytically in thick
humus on limestone cliffs. Oakeley says that he has seen this species
growing in light woodland along with Laelia spp, with the roots
embedded in cracks in the bark, and often covered by mosses and lichens.
He says that during the dry season, this species loses its leaves and
the pseudobulbs, with their protective spines mimic xerophphytic cacti
until the rains return. This species is also pollinated by euglossine
bees. In his book, Oakeley provides a description of the complex pollination
Lycaste angelae (previously Lycaste
brevispatha) is a compact deciduous epiphyte from Costa Rica with
small green, pink and white flowers. This species ,that has been in cultivation
for more than 100 years was generally misidentified as Lycaste candida,
and has been named after Dr Angela Ryan, a UK fragrance chemist and research
botanist whose thesis was on lycastes and anguloas. The difference is
a vestigial flat callus and rudimentary lateral lobes. It is found at
1000-1700m in light shade with year round high humidity, and displays
the characteristic leaf abscission spines. Rubra and Alba forms also exist.
Lycaste campbellii - Photo:
Lycaste campbellii is a deciduous epiphyte from Colombia and Panama
at sea level. The small yellow , soap-scented flowers arise from the base
of the leafless pseudobulbs. Like many of this genus, it is very floriferous
with up to eight flowers from each pseudobulb at the onset of new growth.
It also has the characteristic leaf abscission spines on the leafless
pseudobulbs, and needs to be kept dry while in its leafless state to avoid
Lycaste candida is also a deciduous epiphyte or lithophyte from
Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama, generally found in woodlands or full
sun at 900-1200m. It is similarly floriferous, carrying up to eight, soap-scented
flowers per mature pseudobulb at the onset of new growth.
Lycaste candida - http://www.flickr.com/photos/afriorchids/959042429/in/set-72157600976929338/
Lycaste candida was discovered by Joseph van
Warszewicz and named by Lindley, although erroneously thought to be synonymous
with Lycaste leucantha. During the next 130 years, taxonomists
including Reichenbach, Lankester and Schlecter all published conflicting
views about the three species, brevispatha, candida and leucantha. I have
accepted Oakeley's identification for the purposes of this article.
As can be seen from the photo above, this species carries red/brown colouration
in both the petals and sepals, with the form Lycaste candida var rubra
having dark red-brown sepals with green margins and bright crimson petals
with white margins. An alba form also exists.
Lycaste schilleriana - http://www.flickr.com/photos/ericinsf/116616228/sizes/m/in/photostream/
Lycaste schilleriana has the largest flowers
in the genus at up to 22cm. This striking species is found in Colombia
growing lithophytically at altitudes of 1400m. It was originally introduced
into cultivation by Skinner in the 1850s and described by Reichenbach
in 1855. However, despite its large flowers, it is not a particularly
large plant. Its large green to tan sepals are very prominent, setting
off the white/pink petals. There are several varietal forms including
alba and rosea, however, as Oakeley says, this species remains rare in
Lycaste skinneri var rosea
Lycaste skinneri is perhaps one of the best
known species, although is not common in collections, but is present in
many of the popular Lycaste hybrids. Lycaste skinneri is found in Guatemala,
Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador as an epiphyte or lithophyte in deep
leaf litter in cool cloud forest at 1500-2000 m (it is the national flower
of Guatemala). This habitat has constant mist or light rain and is densely
shaded. Cool night temperatures 5-10ºC are needed for vigorous growth
and regular flowering. It was named for George Ure Skinner who discovered
it in 1840, and it was described by Bateman in the same year. In the early
1900s, a number of superior plants appeared at shows, one of these, Lycaste
skinneri 'Ms G Hamilton-Smith' which had been awarded in 1927 was
present in many collections (divisions of the original plant) until the
Lycaste skinneri was also called Lycaste
virginalis for much of the period between 1860 and 1970 as a result
of an ongoing debate about who first discovered it. Linden claimed that
he had discovered the species and named it in 1840, but later research
shows that he was unaware of Bateman's 1840 publication. The confusion
continues and often one will see plants advertised as Lycaste virginalis
- these are in fact likely to be Lycaste skinneri var alba.
Lycaste skinneri var alba
Following its discovery, large quantities were taken
from the wild and imported into Europe by George Skinner and his successors.
Some reports indicate that consignments of up to 100,000 plants were sold
at auction in the late 19th century. It is little wonder therefore that
it is no longer common in the wild, and for a time, was listed in Appendix
1 of CITES
While the line breeding in the later 19th and most
of the 20th century was conducted by Santa Barbara Estate and Cal Orchids
in California and Wylde Court Orchids in UK, the line breeding is now
being done in Japan and some very superior forms are now available. Several
colour forms exist including alba and some rarer forms including a pink
form with an alba labellum. Oakley says that many of the Lycaste skinneri
varietal epithets attributed in the period 1850-1950 are only horticultural
cultivars not botanical varieties. However, more than 40 cultivars have
been awarded by the RHS. This important species is present in many of
the present show winning hybrids
The most common Lycastes in collections in Perth are Lycaste
cruenta, Lycaste lassioglossa, Lycaste tricolor and Lycaste aromatica.
All three are easy to grow in a shadehouse, provided some protection from
being constantly wet is provided during winter.
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