This genus of tropical orchids, which is mostly native to the Andes Mountains of Colombia and Ecuador, is distributed through South America stretching up to Mexico. Comparettias are epiphytes that naturally grow in very humid conditions, distinguishable by their bright flowers and single, leathery leaf. The most commonly cultivated Comparettia is C. speciosa, which has bright orange flowers, but other species in the genus like C. falcata are also popular. Plants in this genus have proportionately large flowers, which gives them pleasant blooms in the spring; however, the plants themselves are fairly small. Most of these plants have bright pink flowers – the orange speciosa flowers are the exception. In recent years, many plants have been added to this genus, which has swelled to about fifty species from a previous ten. Like other tropical, epiphytic orchids, they grow well in hanging baskets and can also be mounted on a vertical surface like hardwood. Unlike many orchids, however, most Comparettias actually flower during autumn, rather than during the spring.
Many also grow in intermediate to cool conditions, rather than tropical heat; this is because they’re native to high-altitude, cooler forests in mountainous regions.
- Light: Filtered, indirect light or partial shade. Direct sunlight will damage their leaves and they should generally never be exposed to it.
- Water: Keep very moist, but don’t allow them to sit in standing water. Regularly misting them is a good idea – in their natural habitat, many of these plants grow in areas with up to 80% humidity.
- Temperature: For tropical orchids, they like fairly intermediate temperatures that can dip down to about fifty degrees. No Comparettia should be kept much cooler than that.
- Soil: Grow these epiphytes in hanging baskets or mounted on hardwood or cork. If you choose to grow them in baskets, make sure you keep the orchid in a medium that drains well like chopped sphagnum and perlite to avoid dampening the roots.
- Fertilizer: During the growing season, feed a few times a month with a balanced, diluted fertilizer. Their feeding can be scaled back during the dormant season, and don’t overfeed if the plant is showing signs of stress.
They propagate best by division – separate their small pseudobulbs right before the growing season (which can be spring or autumn, depending on the species) and either mount them on slabs or replace in hanging baskets. Like many epiphytic orchids, their new divisions can take a few months to begin growing themselves, so keep them very moist and be patient.
Not necessary if you mount them vertically. If you do maintain these plants in hanging containers – which can make them easier to keep moist – it’s not a bad idea to replace them in a new basket annually, with a fresh medium. When transplanting the plant, try not to handle its root ball too much, as this can hurt future growth.
Though C. speciosa is most often domestically grown, the single most naturally widespread Comparettia is C. falcata, which is found as far north as Mexico and as far south as Peru. A few other popular varieties are C. macroplectron, which is similar to falcata but has larger flowers, and C. coccinea, which shares speciosa’s orange flowers rather than the more common pink.
Keeping them moist is absolutely essential, and misting several times a day is necessary especially if they’re mounted on a vertical surface, which dries the plants out. Their blooms don’t last too long, but making sure to feed them enough can ensure that you’ll get nice bright blooms during their flowering season. Though somewhat rare, these are a good option for tropical orchid gardeners, especially those experienced in growing epiphytes.