The Journal of the Canadian Orchid Congress
Le Journal de la Fédération Canadienne des Sociétés Orchidophiles

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April 1996
Volume 8 - Number 1

Editor: Malcolm Adams


Love Potions

The Early Purple Orchid (Orchis mascula), also known as the Blue Butcher, differs from most terrestrial orchids in having tubers slightly resembling two or three finger-like lobes. For this reason, it has been known as Dead Men's Fingers. In William Shakespeare's Hamlet there is a reference to this orchid:

"There with fantastic garlands did she come, of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples, But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them:"

A love potion derived from the Early Purple Orchid is said to have been created by squeezing out the nectar from 20 stems into warm goat's milk or Greek yogurt. John Partridge, physician to Charles I of England, suggested it "have great force to provide the desire for coition and doth egregiously excite both sexes therewith".

Witches are said to have used the tubers of orchids in love charms, also known as philtres.

The Little Book of Orchids by David Squire.


When judging orchids, one of the most important characteristics to be considered is the flower colour, and describing that colour accurately is critical to an award description. Some of the terms used to describe colour have become confused in general usage (hue, tint, shade, tinge) and are at times used interchangeably.


A technical book on pigments and paints defines these terms:

HUE: originates from an Old English word meaning colour, and refers to the general description of the colour of an object or a substance.

TINT: refers to the modification of a colour by the addition of a small amount of another colour. The tinting strength of a pigment is its degree of power to colour white paint.

SHADE: is descriptive of a degree of variation in colour; for example, a lighter or darker shade of pink, a more reddish shade of purple. In any system of colour gradation, a step in the scale may be called a shade.

TINGE: this is another term which can be useful in orchid flower descriptions, and is defined as: a staining or permeating by a colour, it usually implies a faint, weak or partial colouration. (1. pg.31)

Creating colours

Creating colours in orchids is much more difficult than mixing paints, although some of the principles are the same; when one mixes green with red the result is mud and crossing a green flower with a red one can produce something similar. However, genetics play a large role in hybridising and breeders are still experimenting and learning how colours can be influenced by different parents. Some colours dominate and some are recessive, some can only be inherited through the pod parent; sometimes the inheritance of colour is governed by the segment involved, the labellum for instance. (2. pg.87) Some colours cancel out others; a fairly recent hybrid, Paph. Armeni White, was expected to be peach or apricot but instead was white. The cross was made between the pink P. delenatii and the brilliant yellow P. armeniacum, and, although it was known that P. delenatii x P. concolor produced white flowers, breeders were surprised to find that P. delenatii had the power to nullify the vivid colour of P. armeniacum.

Colour pigments

Orchid flowers seem to occur in shades of most colours except true blue. There are three main groups of pigments present in orchids:

ANTHOCYANINS, which give red and purple tones; ANTHOXANTHINS, which are responsible for yellow tones and PLASTIDS, which are variable in colour and are of a different chemical composition from the first two. Anthocyanins and anthoxanthins are sap-soluble and so can mix fairly easily in the plant cells. Plastid pigments, however, are microscopic coloured granules which behave quite differently. (3. pg.295) They are reputed to be common in the Cypripedium Alliance. (This may explain the incidence of 'colour breaks' in Paph. hybrids, as the plastids do not mix as easily as the sap-soluble pigments.) The chloroplasts which produce green shades in Paphiopedilum are passed on by the female parent as there are no chloroplasts in pollen. (4. pg.41)

What appears to be a single colour may be a blend of pigments in different parts of the cell or in different cells. There may also be cofactors which are uncoloured but have the ability to modify colour. (4. pg.3 8) So, it would seem that clear, rich colours are not easy to obtain and only a small percentage of flowers in each cross may actually be desirable.

New colours

It is probably true to say that orchid growers and breeders are never satisfied with colours that are easily available, no matter which colour we may have in mind. Pink or white paphiopedilums are highly prized but pink and white phalaenopsis are mundane, the former being rare and the latter being common. Similarly, yellow oncidiums are an everyday affair but a bright yellow phalaenopsis is a show-stopper. Breeders are always searching for colours that do not already exist in the genus under consideration, with the aim of increasing the available colour range.

For example, the search for yellow phalaenopsis that approaches the pink or white standards started with P. lueddemanniana, P. amboinensis and P. fasciata. P.Spica, (fasciata x lueddemanniana) and P. Deventeriana 'Treva', (amboinensis x amabilis) have been responsible for much of the progress in this section. (5.) P. venosa is widely used today in yellow breeding. It is variable in colour, some clones being a solid reddish-brown and others approaching green. For this reason it is valuable also for use in programmes aimed at red or green flowers.

Many of the phalaenopsis species are greenish in colour but the flowers are usually small with narrow segments, e.g. fimbriata and micholitzii. P. violacea (now renamed P. bella) has better shape and solid green segments with the inside halves of the lateral sepals richly covered in purple. A true green phalaenopsis is still an elusive dream, most of the 'green' hybrids turn yellow after a short time but breeders are still aiming at the green goal. As already mentioned, some forms of P. venosa are greenish and produce flowers with green tones when crossed onto whites. Breeders are also looking to other genera to introduce green; for example, Eurychone rothschildiana, which has an emerald green throat. (7. pg. 229)

Red phalaenopsis are also the focus of certain breeding programmes, generally advanced by fine-breeding reddish flowers and those that are heavily marked with purple. Selected forms of P. violacae, P. lueddemanniana, P. venosa, P. gigantea and P. pulchra have all been crossed on to richly coloured and patterned hybrids with the aim of producing solid red blooms of good shape and size. It is noticeable that the same species have been used in yellow, red and green breeding lines; in phalaenopsis, probably more than in any other genus, achievements have resulted from the use of carefully selected individual clones of the required colour cast, with a range of colours very often found amongst progeny from one seed cross.

Orange flowers are also in the development stage, with a stream of 'art shades' emanating from breeders. Many of these hybrids are attempts at 'mixing' pigments by crossing reds and yellows and certainly the results are getting closer to the desired colour range, with the achievement of bronzes and peach tones. Other directions which have been taken include crosses with Ascocentrum (e.g. Asconopsis Irene Dobkin, which produced apricot flowers) and Renanthera (e.g. Renanthopsis Carolina Sunset, which does appear orange in an award photo).

As another example, the achievement of a varied colour palette has been more successful in the Cattleya Alliance. A wide range of colours is available for breeders to use in this group of orchids: reds and oranges from Sophronites, Cattleya aurantiaca, Laelia milleri, Encyclia vitellina, etc.; yellows from C. dowiana, L. flava, L. briegeri; the greens of Brassavola digbyana, C. bicolor alba, C. granulosa, all added to the rich purples and lavenders that we associate with cattleya orchids, resulting in a treasure trove of jewel colours, very often with strongly contrasting labellums.

Light source

When viewing orchids for judging it is important to take into account the effect that the light source may have on the flower colour. Natural light is the most neutral except for a period of about two hours after sunrise and two hours before sunset, when the light is 'warmer'. (8. pg.33) However, direct sun should be avoided. Incandescent fights tend to impart a more reddish tone to flower colours and some fluorescent lights bleach or distort colours. These effects may all be intensified in the case of photographs which are taken in non-neutral light conditions. (8. pg.46) Film emulsion is particularly sensitive to invisible (to the human eye) red tones and many orchid flowers suffer from comparison to award photos which portray intensified red and vinicolor shades.

Describing Colours

The difficulty of describing the flower colours is still a problem. It is important that the award description enables judges to visualize the true flower colour as the photos are not always accurate in this regard. The A.O.S. Bulletin of February 1996 mentions the Nickerson Colour Fan which apparently was designed for use in A.O.S. judging. One wonders what happened to this colour guide and why its use was never implemented, it surely would be helpful to have colours described consistently in award descriptions.


1)The Painter's Craft - Ralph Meyer.
2)New Horizons in Orchid Breeding - Hugo Freed.
3)The Orchids, a Scientific Survey - Carl Withner.
4)Novelty Slipper Orchids, Koopowitz and Hasegawa.
5)Yellow Phalaenopsis - AOS Bulletin Feb. 1993.
6)Red Phalaenopsis - AOS Bulletin March 1993.
7)Breeding O' the Green - AOS Bulletin March 1989.
8)AOS Handbook on Orchid Photography.

Judy Adams, Eastern Canada Orchid Society, Student Judge, March 1996

Note: This article was originally produced for an assignment in the Student judges Programme.

A Paphiopedilum by a Different Name

Recently, I was fortunate to acquire a few more issues of the Orchid Digest publication. On the front page of one issue there is a picture of Paphiopedilum Jogjae. It has several flowers per spike, the pouch is rosy pink, the petals twisted and hairy, green with brown spots and stripes and a tall yellow dorsal sepal with lots of brown stripes. It looks like a much improved Paph. chamberlainianum

From the information printed with this photograph, I learned some interesting things and to be able to tell you more about this plant, I did some additional research. Here is what I found out.

As you probably know, the Netherlands had colonized the East Indies way back in time. The Dutch had settled through-out Indonesia, as well as in Western New Guinea (now Irian Jaya). Many of the natives from these regions also held Dutch passports and received their higher education in the Netherlands. When World War Two was over and the Japanese had departed, the Dutch Queen promised to grant Indonesia and Dutch New Guinea their independence by the year 1949. Unfortunately there were many impatient people who would not wait that long.

In 1947, Mr Sukarno, with support from the USA, ousted everyone who held a Dutch passport and the Netherlands had to accommodate a large number of people in a hurry. The sad thing is that these people had to leave everything behind. According to my source they did not get any compensation either.

Let's go back to Jogyakarta around the turn of the century. There were many beautiful plants growing in those delightful surroundings and, of course, there were lots of orchids. We know that orchid collecting, growing and hybridizing were rather fashionable even then. How simple it must have been to grow tropical species in your own garden! Not only species, but hybrids as well would have thrived under such congenial conditions.

Many primary hybrids were registered during those years and some of these would have been made right in their native lands. For example, one was a cross between Paph. glaucophyllum from Java and Paph praestans from New Guinea. It was registered by W. van de Venter as Paph. Jogjae, commemorating the lovely city of Jogyakarta in Java.

What do you think happened to all those "captive" plants after their owners were made to leave? The houses were either left to decay or burned, the gardens neglected and those plants, those treasured orchids, the new hybrids, were left to fend for themselves. Which they did extremely well it would seem. Because more than thirty years later, plant-hunters from the West have found these "wild' orchids. These collectors did not know that one hybrid had already been registered with the R.H.S. in 1927. Thus Paph. Jogiae was re-introduced to orchid growers as Paph. yapianum!

It took a while before informed orchidists realized what had happened. I wonder how many other plants come into our collection with "new" names? When one remembers how many explorers, traders, missionaries and just traverers have been to and lived in these far-away places, it is tempting to speculate on what plants these persons grew for themselves. There must also be native inhabitants who enjoyed growing orchids in their gardens. Were any of them successful, like Mr. van de Venter, in raising hybrids? Who knows?

Ingrid Schmidt-Ostrander,Victoria Orchid Society

Orchids of Eastern Newfoundland

Many people do not think of Newfoundland as being a particularly favourable area for finding orchids, but surprisingly, 33 species make their home in our challenging climate. In fact, the island of Newfoundland has more species of orchids than does PEI, Manitoba, Saskatchewan or Alberta. For the orchid hunter, the forests of western Newfoundland house the most species due to the limestone substrate in that area.

The Avalon Peninsula of eastern Newfoundland is another story. Here, the soils are very acidic. Much of the landscape is barrenlands interspersed with peatlands and a scattering of stunted fir or spruce. A few sheltered valleys of the Avalon Peninsula do have richer balsam fir forest and consequently are home to orchids otherwise rare on the rest of the peninsula. Despite the extreme exposure of much of the peninsula, there are still many orchid species that thrive.

One orchid site favoured by our local orchid society is located along a transmission line adjacent to the Trans Canada Highway, about 20 minute west of St. John's. The landscape here is typical barenland/peatland yet a short 30 minute walk will reveal 9 species of orchids. At this site, and elsewhere on the Avalon Peninsula. The most nutrient-poor bogs are home to Arethusa bulbosa, Calopogon tuberosus and Pogonia ophioglossoides. In suitable years, bogs can take on a pink hue due to their many blossoms. This particular site is also home to the rare alba form of Arethusa bulbosa.

In more nutrient rich seepage areas the Platantheras become the dominant orchid. By far, the most numerous orchid at this site, and indeed the entire island of Newfoundland, is P. dilatata. This species is locally called the scent-bottle orchid for obvious reasons. Almost as common, but often overlooked are the small flowers of P. clavellata. This latter species may also be found in wet forest depressions.

In some peatlands, P. blephariglottis may be locally common, but overall, they are much less abundant than the previous two Platanthera species. Even more uncommon on the Avalon, but often co-occurring at the same sites, are P. psycodes, P. lacera var. terrae-novae and their natural hybrid P. X andrewsii.

In late sunnner, this site will reveal the fragrant blossoms of Spiranthes romanzoffiana. If any Newfoundland orchid could be called a weed it would be this one. They grow in many habitats including peatlands, forest clearings, coastal headlands, burnt-over forest, gravel road-sides and even lawns!

Although absent from this particular site, there is one other species or peatland orchid on the Avalon Peninsula; Malaxis unifolia. This is our rarest peatland orchid in eastern Newfoundland, yet local fens may have surprisingly high populations of this diminutive orchid.

The rest of eastern Newfoundland's orchids are inhabitants of the forest floor. The most common and earliest flowering (mid-June) is Cyprepedium acaule. Although extremely rare, I have been fortunate to find several alba forms. Our other four forest species are very rare. Platanthera orbiculata var. macrophylla is known from one site at the Salmonier Nature Park. Luckily, this population is protected within the boundaries of the park and can be accessed only by permission of the park staff. Corallorhiza trifida, C. maculata, and Goodyera tesselata may be more common in western Newfoundland, but on the Avalon, they are only known from a few locations. These sites also have quite small populations.

Literature states that five other orchid species should occur on the Avalon Peninsula, although to date, they elude me. These include Goodyera repens, Coeloglossum viride, Platanthera obtusata, P. hyperborea and Listeria cordata (these last two species are quite abundant in western Newfoundland)

For visitors to the St. John's area, late July offers the best time for viewing blossoms of our local orchid species, although some may be found from mid-June to mid-September. While our landscape is rugged, it holds much beauty and charm, especially when you find a delicate orchid blossom braving our harsh elements.

Todd Boland, President, Newfoundland Orchid Society.

Flasking - Tricks of the Trade

I have taught a flasking course for the past ten years, having successfully coached hobbyists from all walks of life. I thought some of the tips I teach them might be appropriate to share with you. Flasking success is based upon a few very important factors.

Clean working area

For those flasking on a kitchen table or benchtop, it is possible to achieve almost 100% contamination free flasks provided that the surrounding air is fairly clean and the work surface is wiped with a surface sterilant. I suggest that you test your proposed flasking area for aerial contaminants. Prepare some test flasks, bottles, petri dishes, etc. the same as you would for real flasking. Keep one container closed as a control and open others for five seconds, 10 seconds, 30 seconds, one minute respectively. Close each container after the given time interval. Label. Examine each container, including the control, daily for ten days. Any fungi, bacteria or yeast contaminants should be visible by then. If all containers other than the control show cottony or coloured moulds or creamy beige or coloured yeast colonies, your proposed working area is not suitable. Look for better location (test again) or invest in a flasking hood. If few contaminants show up and these only on the medium exposed for a minute then the chosen area is probably suitable for work without a hood. If the control shows contamination, check that the medium processing has been done correctly.

Good Sterile technique

You cannot escape the requirement for good sterile technique. The finest laminar flow hood will be of little use if fingers touch the sterile interior of the flask during seed sowing or if you presume that something that looks clean is sterile. Get someone to show you how they do it. Presume every tool that enters the flask is potentially contaminated even though it looks clean. Flame metal tools, razor blades used to cut ripe capsules, the mouth of a flask once opened and again before closing. Use long-handled tools to keep fingers out of the flask. Practice the technique on blank flasks until you get it right then practice on flasks containing medium but without valuable seeds. Pretend that you have sown something, then see if you get conlamination. It is far better to waste some medium at this stage than to lose valuable seed and/or seedlings.

Germinable seed

Orchid seed can quickly lose germinability especially if it is stored under warm, humid conditions. Some seeds are more forgiving but all will eventually succumb to poor storage. Seaton and Pritchard have described the best way to store seeds. This is over saturated calcium chloride solution. Surface sterilization of certain seeds can render them ungerminable so if this processing is necessary, do it for the shortest time possible (e.g. one minute with 1:10 bleach solution). I have found that seeds of certain terrestrial orchids e.g. Diuris and Catasetum allies germinate best in darkness or in subdued light. Exposure to light can inhibit germination past the initial stages. If you are attempting to germinate such seeds, place some sown flasks in the dark and some in the light to see if there is a difference.

Appropriate Mother flask medium

With so many orchid species, there are bound to be some which have never been attempted before. My best advice is to try several different media such as those with and without charcoal and those with and without added banana. This may sound like a lot but is surely worthwhile if the strategy meets with success. Keep notes on your successes and your failures and share this with the group. I hope this helps clarify matters.

See also:

Light, M.H.S., Flasking Problems and Solutions, The Orchid Review, 102: 104- 108, 1994

Light, M.H.S., Germination of Diuris Seed, Does Darkness Matter?, Orchids Australia, 5: 51-53, 1993

Seaton, P.T. & Pritchard, H.W., The Do's and Don'ts of Orchid Seed Storage, The Orchid Review, 98: 172-174, 1990

Marilyn Light, University of Ottawa

How Colours of Shading Material Can Effect the Growth and Blooming of Orchids

BLACK: Black is best used on the outside of your growing area as it absorbs sunlight, converts it to heat and then dissipates it into the air. Don't use it inside since the heat that will be dissipated will be overheating the area you are trying to shade and keep cool.

WHITE: White shading, either in the form of cloth or painted onto walls and windows reflects light out and away from plants.

LAVENDER: This is supposed to be the optimum choice for shading which is most effective. This colour is supposed to transmit the colours of light which plants need, namely blue and red, and absorbs green light which is only reflected by plants.

GREEN: Green shading should be avoided as it can result in no blooms and will make plants weak. The green colour absorbs the needed colours of red and blue light and transmits the green.

The colour of the shading material used will help or hinder the growth and blooming of your plants and may explain why one grower does a better job of cultivating orchids than another.

Jungle Gems Orchids

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