When many people think of orchids, they probably picture a flower from the Cattleya (pronounced kat-lee-uh) genus. Cattleya orchids typically feature showy, fragrant flowers that come in a wide variety of shapes, colors, and color combinations. Many of the species sport quite large blooms that stretch several inches across while others have smaller but no less beautiful blooms. Cattleya orchids usually only flower once a year with the timeframe varying by species, though some hybrids, especially those crossed with Laelia orchids, have been cultivated to bloom more than once.
These orchids are epiphytic, meaning they naturally grow attached to other plants, such as tree branches. Their foliage is typically a dull green color. The plants grow from pseudobulbs, which store nutrients and water. Cattleya orchids are generally long-lived plants and slow growers, taking roughly between four and seven years to mature. The best time to plant these orchids is once new growth appears after they're done flowering. Seeds generally can be started at any point.
|Common Names||Cattleya orchid, orchid, corsage orchid, Queen of the Orchids|
|Mature Size||3–24 in. tall and wide|
|Bloom Time||Spring, fall|
|Flower Color||White, green, yellow, orange, red, purple|
|Hardiness Zones||10–12 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Central America, South America|
Cattleya Orchid Care
The Cattleya orchid is an indigenous species of plant from Brazil. Horticulturist William Cattley is associated with this plant's name for accepting a shipment of this beautiful flower in London in a withering state and nursing it back to health. He further popularized the plant by having it catalogued and published in journals.
Cattleya orchids are not difficult to care for, and even beginners can find success with getting them to flower. They make lovely houseplants, but they can also live outside year-round in tropical climates and during the warmer months in areas that experience frost.
The key to growing them successfully is providing the right amount of light, maintaining the proper temperature and humidity, and watering and feeding adequately.
These orchids need bright indirect light for optimal growth. When grown as a houseplant, an east- or west-facing window that gets a lot of light is ideal. However, any harsh midday sun that comes through the window should be diffused with a sheer curtain. Similarly, the orchids like outdoor sunlight in the morning but should be protected from the strong afternoon sun. The foliage of orchids that are getting too much light often will turn yellowish or even be scorched brown or black in some areas.
Cattleya orchids will thrive in a commercial growing mix made specifically for orchids. This usually includes fir or sequoia bark and potentially perlite, horticultural charcoal, coconut husk chips, tree fern fiber, clay pellets, gravel, and more. When grown outdoors cattleya orchids can be slab-mounted, a technique in which the orchid is manually attached to a tree host. To mount the orchid, wrap the roots in moss; wire the plant on top of a shelf (made of organic materials, such as driftwood or cork bark); and attach it to a branch, tree trunk, or log.
These orchids require a moderate amount of moisture. Water whenever the growing medium is fairly dried out; typically a weekly watering is sufficient. Do not let the orchids sit in a consistently wet growing medium, which can cause root rot. At each watering, water deeply so that the water sprays the foliage and runs through the container drainage holes. Many growers prefer to sit the orchid container in a sink to do this. It’s best to water in the mornings, so the foliage has time to dry in the light. Otherwise, lingering dampness can cause mildew and other disease.
Temperature and Humidity
Cattleya orchids prefer daytime temperatures between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit and nighttime temperatures between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Colder temperatures and frost can kill a plant. The orchids can tolerate temperatures up to around 95 degrees Fahrenheit, though it’s important that they have good air circulation and high humidity in such heat. In general, they like a humidity level around 40 to 70 percent. Many growers raise humidity around their plants by placing the orchid’s container on a tray filled with pebbles and water. The foliage also can be misted in the mornings. Some growers also place a humidifier in the room with the orchid. Plus, these orchids are excellent to grow in greenhouse environments.
Some orchids have been known to grow and even bloom for years without fertilizer. But minimal yet consistent feeding will give your plant the nutrients it needs to thrive. Many growers recommend using a balanced orchid fertilizer at a quarter strength weekly at each watering. Too much fertilizer can cause the plant to focus on foliage growth and send up stalks that don't produce flowers. Excess fertilizer also can damage the orchid's roots.
Cattleya Orchid Varieties
There are many orchid species and hybrids within the Cattleya genus that vary in appearance and bloom time, including:
- Cattleya labiata: Known commonly as the crimson cattleya or ruby-lipped orchid, this species is medium in size and produces big, showy blooms often in shades of pink, lilac, or white.
- Cattleya iricolor: This species is notable for its very fragrant flowers in pale yellow or creamy white that have long, narrow petals.
- Cattleya mossiae: This species is known as the Easter orchid because it’s usually in bloom around Easter time.
- Cattleya percivaliana: This species is commonly called the Christmas orchid because it blooms in fall and winter often in a pale lavender color.
- Cattleya schroederae: This is another species that has the common name of Easter orchid for its spring blooms; its showy flowers are up to 9 inches across.
Potting and Repotting Cattleya Orchids
These plants don’t like their roots disturbed, so repot only when it’s essential. Once the roots are growing over the edge of the pot and/or the growing medium has decomposed (which causes poor drainage), it’s time to repot. This typically will occur every two years. Choose a slightly larger container with adequate drainage holes. Then, carefully loosen the roots from the old container, and shake off as much decomposed growing medium as possible. Place the orchid in the new container at the same depth it was previously growing, and pack fresh orchid potting mix around the roots.
Pests seem to love this type of orchid. Watch for common houseplant pests that can cause foliage damage, especially scale. Catching and eliminating scale is important because this pest sucks the sap from various parts of the plant and can seriously damage cattleya orchids. There are many ways to get rid of scale, including the use of rubbing alcohol or neem oil. Thrips (spray with water) and spider mites (water or neem oil kills them) can also damage, but likely not kill, this orchid. You may find mealybugs around buds making a cottony white mess but you can wash them away with water, among other methods.
How to Get Cattleya Orchids to Bloom
Giving your plant sufficient lighting is the best way to get a cattleya orchid to bloom. Cattleya orchids that aren’t getting enough light will have darker than normal foliage, and they often won’t flower. If your orchid has at least one light green leaf, chances are it will flower because it's getting enough light. Consider a grow light for the orchid, which could persuade it to bloom. Artificial lighting is easier to regulate so you can consistently give the plant the correct amount of lighting for it to thrive.
Common Problems With Cattleya Orchids
Though it's an easy orchid to grow, things can go awry. Look for the following signs of problems with your cattleya orchid.
Not every orchid has a pseudobulb like the cattleya orchid to help it survive periods of drought. But keep an eye on the pseudobulb (the swollen storage organ on the stem), which can give you clues about your plant's health. A plump pseudobulb indicates a happy, well-hydrated plant but a wrinkled one indicates severe dehydration. Scale bugs also hide under the papery covering of the pseudobulb so be sure to investigate. Remove bugs using a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol or some rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle to attack the scale problem.
If you see the color of the pseudobulb has turned creamy or blackened, the plant is suffering from a water mold problem and is rotting from the roots up. Cut away the discolored portions and treat the wound with hydrogen peroxide.
Brown Spots on Leaves
Large brown spots on leaves may look ugly but this bacterial issue isn't much to worry about. Simply remove infected leaves and other areas so the bacteria doesn't spread.
Dead Leaf Tips
If you see more than just brown spots, but the entire tip of a leaf is brown and dead, the plant may have anthracnose, a fungal disease. Remove the damaged areas so the fungus does not spread.
Yellow Spots on Leaves
An infestation of scale may reveal itself as yellow, chlorotic spots on the upper surface of the leaves. Use rubbing alcohol to eliminate the pests. If the yellow spots are large and stippled, spider mites may be sucking the juices out of the leaves.
Are cattleya orchids hard to grow?
A cattleya orchid can be easy to grow when it's given proper care.
How often does a cattleya orchid bloom?
A cattleya orchid can bloom once or twice a year.
What month do cattleya orchids bloom?
It's tough to predict exactly when a cattley orchid will bloom in the spring or fall, but most people cross their fingers that the orchid will bloom on Mother's Day each May.
How much sun do cattleya orchids need?
Give your cattleya a lot of indirect sunlight and never direct sunlight.