Growing Schomburgkia Orchids

Schomburgkias require lots of light and moisture. Photo © Sepp/Flickr

This genus of tropical orchids, found in areas ranging from Mexico down to southern Brazil, comprises twelve large-sized plants that thrive in hot conditions. As they mature they become quite impressive in size—some of these plants grow a terminal inflorescence up to five feet tall, bearing up to fifteen flowers. They can be either epiphytic or lithophytic, and the larger species of Lithophytes are typically grown in gardens or greenhouses.

There is some variance in their flowering habit, and various species bloom at various points in the year, but they predominantly flower in spring. The flowers of Schomburgkia orchids range from about one to four inches in diameter. Most of these flowers are red to purple, but a few varieties grow in cream or dark brown. Each plant has large, leathery leaves that grow from stalked pseudobulbs, about two to three per bulb. Named after the German botanist who first collected them, Schomburgkias are impressive orchids that are a good fit for tropical gardeners who can provide adequate light, humidity, and space to maintain them properly.

Growing Conditions

  • Light: These tropical orchids require lots of bright light every day to thrive. If the leaves are growing in too small or losing color, they likely need more light.
  • Water: Keep them evenly moist and do not allow to dry out. However, make sure not to waterlog them.
  • Temperature: Warm tropical temperatures, ideally around seventy degrees or higher. Schomburgkia orchids not tolerant of frost.
  • Soil: A coarse, well-draining, epiphyte mix like chopped sphagnum moss or perlite will satisfy the epiphyte varieties: if grown in soil, a well-drained, fertile mix with organic material.
  • Fertilizer: Fertilize monthly using a balanced fertilizer like a 20-20-20 for best results, and up their feeding, if the plant is not blooming sufficiently.

Propagation

Schomburgkias can propagate either by seed or division, though division will likely be easier for typical gardeners. To divide orchids, separate stems at the beginning of the growing season and replant in new containers; the stems can also be mounted on a vertical surface like a slab. Use sterile tools to avoid infecting the orchids. It can take some time for these plants to root after division, so be patient and keep them in moist, warm conditions.

Repotting

Schomburgkias are quite large and will require repotting if they’ve begun to outgrow their pots. Telltale signs that a plant needs repotting are wilting leaves, soil that won’t absorb water, and roots being pushed against the container sides. Lift the plant and root ball as a whole and replace in a larger container that then should be backfilled with fresh medium for best results: this will encourage good drainage.

Varieties

Notably, there is some taxonomic confusion surrounding this genus. Many of the species with hollow pseudobulbs have been moved to Myrmeciphila—for instance, the former S. tibicinis, which has bright yellow pseudobulbs and grows high in the treetops.

Remaining in the genus, however, are terrestrial species like S. undulata, which blooms wine-colored purple flowers. Many species in this genus are listed as Laelias by some sources.

Grower’s Tips

Like other tropical orchids, keeping Schomburgkias in humid, warm conditions is key to their long-term health. These are large growers that do well with regular feeding and will need to repotted once they’ve begun to stretch past their container. Many gardeners, however, choose to mount them vertically, and Schomburgkias can thrive in these conditions as well. Watch out for common orchid pests like mealybugs and scale: these kinds of insects can be wiped away using rubbing alcohol and cloth in small numbers, but if an infestation has become too widespread a strong eco-friendly pesticide should be used.