What we grow: Thunia veitchiana

By Sandra Simpson

The six species of Thunia orchids are native to the lower mountains (600-1000m) of India and Sri Lanka, through Myanmar (Burma) to China, Thailand and Malaysia. Most are terrestrial, some are semi-epiphytic – but all are deciduous in autumn.

The flowers come on new growths, which start in spring from the base of the old, bare canes. These growths rapidly gain size so it’s important to make sure the plant is well watered (but keep water out of the new shoots as they can rot), well fed (more on this in a minute) and slugs and snails are kept at bay. I grow my Thunia veitchiana in potting mix.

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Thunia veitchiana, brought inside to enjoy – more flowers have come out since this photo was taken. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The information I got with my plant in 2015 (a TOS raffle win!) suggests a complicated regime of liquid fertiliser once new growths show, the strength of which needs to be gradually built up from one-sixteenth to one-half. Deciding I didn’t have the time for that palaver, the next sentence was perfect. “Alternatively, apply a 6-month slow-release fertiliser at half the manufacturer’s recommended rate.”

I happened to mention a disappointing flowering in 2018 to a more experienced grower and was asked where I kept the plant. “In the shadehouse” (thinking I would protect the new growths and flower buds). “Put it outside from Labour Weekend,” was the reply, advice which I’ve followed – and which has resulted in a flush of beautiful flowers in January, 2019. (Make sure you keep up the snail bait.) Mine now grows against the shadehouse wall where it gets early morning sun and thereafter dappled light/shade, and good air movement.

Although it looks as though each cane is carrying only one bud, these ‘buds’ split into anything from two to five flowers flowers as they open.

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The flowers seem to open in whatever direction they please! Photo: Sandra Simpson

Some of last year’s canes, which I’ve tied to a stake in the pot, are throwing kiekies at their tips. Hopefully, the baby plants will be large enough to pot up before these old canes start to wither (after flowering).

Keep up watering and feeding even as these old canes die off because the flowering canes need to be plump by the end of autumn. When the weather cools stop feeding and gradually reduce watering – watering ends when the leaves start to drop. Keep the plant dry and frost-free over winter and then watch for those new little growths coming away again!

Repot into fresh mix when the new growths have a few inches on them.

I have read this online, but not tried it (yet): “Plants can be easily propagated in spring by cutting the previous year’s stems into lengths of about 15cm. Then insert them firmly into pots.”

The genus was first described in 1852 by Heinrich Gustav Reichenbach (1823-90, the world’s leading authority on orchids after the death of his friend John Lindley in 1865). Professor Reichenbach named the genus Thunia in honour of the Austrian statesman (and orchid fancier) Count Leopold von Thun Hohenstein of Bohemia [the Czech Republic].

Thunia veitchiana was first raised by George Toll of Manchester in England, a cross between Thunia marshalliana and Thunia bensoniae, with John Seden, a hybridiser employed by the famous Veitch Nurseries, producing the same plant slightly later.

Both Messers Toll and Seden exhibited flowering plants at a Royal Botanic Society show in 1885, according to J H Veitch in his history of the famous Veitch Nurseries, Hortus Vetichii (1906) – with the name accorded to Mr Seden as he had been the first to supply the information to Professor Reichenbach. Mr Toll had called his plant Thunia wrigleyana.

Thunia marshalliana is named for a 19th century British orchid enthusiast (and that’s all I could find!). Thunia bensoniae is named for Mrs Benson, wife of a 19th century Colonel and British Resident in Rangoon (Burma). Both wife and husband were orchid enthusiasts and have orchids named for them.

Editor’s note: Do you have a summer-flowering plant that’s never seen at a show? Let me know and we’ll organise a website posting.

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What we grow: Disas

By John Edwards

Disa orchids are among some of my favourites – the flowers are large and showy and last a good while. I’m surprised that more people don’t grow them because they’e not difficult to grow. However, I am aware that they have been called ‘die-sas’ because they have died for some growers. (I did not say some growers have killed them!!) If their basic cultural requirements are met, growers can experience good success, just as I do.

Disa orchids need to be kept wet all year round. This is opposite to the rule for watering most orchids. In their natural habitat in central and southern Africa they grow by streams with their roots in water all the time.

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John Edwards’ Disa orchids in bloom in January. Photo: Winsome Edwards

My setup is simple. I have a deep tank to hold water and fertiliser and sit a tray, about 150mm deep, on top of this tank. I have a small aquarium pump on the bottom of the tank that pumps water up to the tray above so the pots can be thoroughly saturated. The pump is turned on every 2-3 days, depending on the weather, and is left on for a few hours. There is a drain hole in the tray to allow water to return to the tank below. I use rain water in this system and think this is best for the orchids.

I use deep pots, 125mm square, and sphagnum moss chopped quite fine as a planting medium. Last year I tried using No.2 bark but found the results inferior so have gone back to using moss.

Fertiliser is kept quite weak – EC 0.2, CF 2, PPM 140 or less.

After they have flowered I wait a few weeks until the new growths are large enough to plant. Then, I remove the plant from its pot, put it in a bucket of water and swish it round a bit until the moss washes away from the roots. These plants have very brittle roots so great care must be taken not to break them. I remove all the old moss from the roots and pot them in new chopped moss. Larger plants grow a bulb and I usually choose these to pot up and discard the rest.

I grow the disas in my shade house so they don’t get direct sun and I try to keep the temperature of the water below 21°C, if possible, as they like it reasonably cool.

Do try growing some of these beauties, they are well worth the effort.

Editor’s note: Named after Queen Disa, of Swedish mythology, who passed one of King Freyr’s tests by visiting him dressed in a net. The orchid takes the name because of the net-like veining of the dorsal sepal in some species.

If you’re growing an orchid that you think may be of wider interest- especially if it’s something that flowers outside show times – please send some information and a photo for sharing on our website.

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What we grow: Dendrobium loddigesii

I’d like to invite Tauranga Orchid Society members to share notes and photos of prized orchids when they’re in bloom so our newer members get an idea of what’s possible to grow in this area.

By Sandra Simpson

Mounted on a piece of ponga, my Dendrobium loddigesii was a purchase at the 2016 TOS auction (no price recorded). In December 2017 it produced 10 flowers and in December 2018 it has put up 15 flowers. Apparently, specimen plants have so many flowers the plant itself can hardly be seen!

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My mounted Dendrobium loddigesii. Photo: Sandra Simpson

It grows in a shadehouse – open sides and an opaque roof. Fans run through the day year-round, and during cooler months a curtain of bubble wrap drops over (it’s not fully covered, there are gaps) the exposed southern end of the house.

The orchid is listed as a cool-intermediate grower which is about right for my conditions – no heating during winter and only fan-cooling in the summer.

An American orchid nursery website offers this information with my notes in [ ]: “These are tough plants, found throughout China, Laos and Vietnam where they occupy trees [epiphyte] and rocks [lithophyte] [and are also terrestrial, ie, growing on the ground] in exposed areas that become cool or cold for part of the year. As such, they require a cooler dry rest during winter to initiate blooming. Keeping them on the dry side will reward the grower with a profusion of flowers in early spring, which appear primarily on the leafless, mature canes from the previous year. [Don’t worry when leaves start to turn yellow and fall, this is a precursor to flowering!]

“During the growing season, Dendrobium loddigesii grows best in bright conditions, with heavy watering, high humidity, and good air movement. In short order, they become large specimens.”

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A close-up of the flowers. Photo: Sandra Simpson

During periods of high temperatures I try to drop the mount into a bucket of water for about an hour at least once a week. My hose watering doesn’t keep mounted orchids as damp as they’d probably like so a bucket soak helps balance that out. And I can add fertiliser to the bucket too.

In winter but, depending on temperatures, every 2-3 weeks I give it a quick mist (the lower the temperature, the less water orchids need).

Because the plant has a creeping habit, it’s recommended to grow it on a mount, in a basket or in a shallow pot with fast-drying media.

I may not be doing it all right, but with the increase in flowers from last year to this I must be on the right track, at least.

For your diary: Our 2019 auction will be from 7pm on February 19 at St Enoch’s Church hall in 16th Ave  (our usual venue is undergoing strengthening to meet the earthquake code). All welcome; cash only.

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Christmas barbecue

Thirty-two intrepid members, spouses and friends attended our annual Christmas barbecue lunch on December 1 – a day of windswept, non-stop rain. Never mind! We were snug and dry in the Gallery at Te Puna Quarry Park and had a lovely Secret Santa swap of gifts, a slap-up potluck lunch and some good conversation.

Our first meeting for 2019 will be on Tuesday, February 19 at 7pm. We have a new venue for the annual plant auction as the Wesley Church hall will still be undergoing strengthening to meet earthquake regulations. Please bring your plants (and cash to buy some more to take home) to St Enoch’s Church Hall in 16th Ave (between Fraser St and Cameron Rd) where there is plenty of parking, both offstreet and on. All these details will go into our first newsletter next year.

In the meantime, please enjoy these photos of the Christmas lunch (all photos by Sandra Simpson unless stated).

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Dan Bond (left) and Roger Allen.

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Emma Searle (left) and Evelyn Wills.

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John Edwards (left) and Laurie Dawbin have a serious chat.

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Audrey Hewson (left) and Mary Parkinson.

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Jean Richardson (left) and Diane Hintz.

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Ute Rank (left) and Liam Rowden Llosa, our newest and youngest member, are impressed by whatever Craig Parsons is showing them on his phone.

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President Conrad Coenen (far left), secretary Sandra Simpson and vice-president Barry Curtis. Photo: Jude Coenen

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The amazing potluck lunch – with dessert to follow!

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Member success: Dendrobium nobile

By Craig Parsons

This Dendrobium nobile, unfortunately unnamed, was transferred from a pot to a 30cm basket about 2002. It was hung in a whitey wood (mahoe) tree under a Norfolk Island pine in 2003.

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The orchid in 2005, hanging in the bottom part of our section in Forrester Dr. Photo: Craig Parsons

We moved from Forrester Dr to Bayvista Close, also in Welcome Bay, in 2007 and brought the orchid with us.

We had a Queensland frangipani tree growing in the southwest corner of the section and removed the top of the tree at about 3-4m and stapled the basket to the tree at 2m. It was covered by some foliage and not exposed to the prevailing southwest wind. A Japanese weeping maple was planted 1.5m from the tree.


This photo from 2011 shows about 150+ flowers. Photo: Craig Parsons

The frangipani tree was cut down to above the basket as it had grown around the wire and the tree was threatening to push the retaining wall out so the basket is now attached to a tree stump.

The maple has subsequently grown to cover the front of the orchid. The shelter hedges at the back and side also grew but were kept at 2m high.

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Photo: Craig Parsons

This year the orchid has produced 350+ flowers. The photo above is taken from inside the maple tree, and shows only a small number of the flowers. The plant is 1.5m wide and 1m deep.

The plant is infrequently watered by me so mostly it’s watered by rain and if I remember I’ll throw some food on and occasionally foliar feed it when I’m doing the others.

We used to throw our banana skins on it, but now I use a high-potassium fertiliser I got from Bill Liddy [of Napier]. Sorry to say that now the plant is out of sight it mostly gets forgotten about.


The Dendrobium nobile orchid is native to the highlands of Southeast Asia and the Himalayas. The plants are semi-deciduous, meaning they lose some of their leaves during their growing or flowering periods. They produce a profusion of blooms right along the canes in the winter or early spring and can remain in flower for up to two months. Don’t remove old canes as the plants can, and will, reflower along these.


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OCNZ Awards 2017

Congratulations to Tauranga Orchid Society members who received Orchid Council of New Zealand Awards in 2017 (information from the 2018 Yearbook).

Award of Merit (AM), 80 or more points

Helen McDonald: Cattleya Cariad’s Mini-Quinee ‘Angel Kiss’ (C. (Mini Purple x intermedia)); Cattleya guttata ‘Beryl’s Beauty’; Cattleya jongheana ‘Taikura’ (also CCC, see below).

Brian Enticott: Paphiopedilum Gary Romagna ‘Palm Beach’ (Paph (rothschildianum x Saint Swithin))

Highly Commended Certificate (HCC), 75 or more points

Helen McDonald: Cattleya cernua ‘Taikura’.

Certificate of Cultural Excellence (CCE), 90 or more points

Helen McDonald: Cattleya lundii ‘Taikura’.

Certificate of Cultural Commendation (CCC), 80 or more points

Helen McDonald: Cattleya jongheana ‘Taikura’.

Diane Hintz: Mediocalcar decoratum.

Patricia Hutchins: Peristeranthus hillii ‘Memoria David Hutchins’.

For results from past years, click on the OCNZ Awards tab at the top of the page.

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Orchid names: Dendrobium Pukekura

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Dendrobium Pukekura. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Dendrobium Pukekura was discovered in the mid-1960s among a collection donated to Pukekura Park in New Plymouth by Fred Parker.

The plant had been given to Mr Parker by a Japanese doctor, who was known to have used Den. moniliforme as a parent. It is generally accepted that the other parent was Den. regium. Others have suggested that it could be Den. nobile making this hybrid a synonym of Den. Cassiope, or Den. Cassiope making this plant Den. Inverleith. The flowers are a delicate pink, it is very vigorous and easy to flower, and is widely grown in New Zealand and Australia as Den. Pukekura. It has also been used as a parent of other unregistered hybrids.

  • Information supplied by George Fuller, curator of Pukekura Park, 1965–1990 as a footnote to the RHS quarterly supplement to the International Register of Orchid  Hybrids (Sander’s List), January-March 2011.

In an online history of the park Mr Fuller writes: George Fuller’s love affair with Pukekura Park began in 1964 when nurseryman Fred Parker donated his orchid collection to the Park, conditional on the employment of George to care for it! By 1966 George had progressed to become curator of Pukekura and Brooklands.

George Fuller, patron of the Orchid Council of New Zealand, died in 2015 aged 86. Read an obituary here.

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