Label detective work

By Sandra Simpson

Those members at our November meeting may recall my plaintive cry for help regarding a plant I brought along for the table display labelled Pleurothallis turantus. In preparation for the meeting I was trying to find out a bit more about the plant, which I’d purchased at our club auction earlier this year, and discovered that entering its name into Google brought up 0 results, not even a suggested alternate spelling (‘did you mean’…?).

It’s not often Google has nothing to say, which made me wonder about the accuracy of the label, hence my call for help at the meeting. Another member had the same plant with the same name also on the display table.

Getting the display table plant list ready for the newsletter made me go and double-check that I hadn’t copied down the label incorrectly. No, the small plant with its small, golden flowers was labelled Pleurothallis turantus.

Google had not changed its opinion of this plant name the second time I tried so I started looking for lists of Pleurothallis species, thinking that maybe the second part of the name had been a bit garbled by the label writer. Wikipedia has a major list, as do several reputable-looking websites. I knew it wasn’t Pths truncata because I have one of those (small, orange ball flowers) and Google images quickly revealed that Pths tarantula and Pths taurus were not matches.

So where and how do you look for an unidentified orchid? As a last resort I thought I’d try Google images, but could only enter a vague search term: ‘Pleurothallis-type orchid yellow flowers’.

Believe it or not, and I hardly could, there was a matching image on the first page of results – Physosiphon tubatus (syn. Pleurothallis tubata).

Physosiphon tubatus (or is it?) pictured at Kew Gardens. The flowers intensify their colour from yellow as they age but there also seems to be a more orange form too. Image: Wikimedia Commons (Dinkum).

But wait, there’s more. Orchid name are slippery things at the best of times and this orchid has had a few in the very recent past. Simon Pugh-Jones, writing on the Writhlington School Orchid Project (WSBE) website in 2017 says:

“Some plants seem to change their name more than others. We first purchased this species in the 1990s as Pleurothallis tubata before changing it to Physosiphon tubatus to reflect changes in Pleurothallis, before changing it back to Pleurothallis tubata, then changing it recently to Stelis tubata and today checking with we have changed it again to Stelis emarginata.” Read the full entry.

One local grower with plenty of expertise reckons there will be a good number of plants tagged ‘ Pleurothallis turantus’ in this area. If you have one, please change its label!

If you’re like me and don’t have access to OrchidWiz (a purchased database), a useful online tool for checking plant names, and particularly good for hybrids, is OrchidRoots, now on version 3 and started in 2015 by Dr Chariya Punyanitya, a member of the American Orchid Society, assisted by her sister, Pim Little, and Emerys Chew.

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Deflasking orchids

The Bay of Plenty Orchid Society arranged a talk about deflasking orchids from Monika Simpson of Auckland and kindly invited Tauranga Orchid Society members along to yesterday’s meeting for what turned out to be very practical and useful instruction.

Orchids grown from seed are initially grown in a ‘flask’ in agar gel until they reach a certain size, which is when deflasking takes place (ie, bringing them out of a controlled environment into the natural environment of a home, shadehouse or glasshouse). Flasks are generally either clear glass bottles or lab-type flasks, which often have to be broken to remove the plantlets, or clear plastic bottles, which are cut open. Bottle-shaped flasks are used on their sides.

Monika, who was born in Poland, has quickly upskilled since 2016 when she first became involved with the sale of flasks imported from overseas and it was this experience that she shared with her audience.

Monika Simpson with a flask of orchids. Photo: Sandra Simpson

One tip was to remember that plants in flasks imported from the Northern Hemisphere will need time to adjust to our seasonal cycle and, in fact, may not for the first season and you may see the plants go dormant in spring and summer.

“You should watch them and see what they want to do,” Monika said. “If the leaves are yellowing and dropping, let them go dormant and put them in a cooler, darker place.” This ‘adapting’ dormancy is generally shorter than normal.

“Leave them in the flask but watch for contamination. The flask will look horrible but dropped leaves won’t cause contamination.”

Is my flask ready to be opened? Usually, an imported flask contains plants already at the size for deflasking, but gauge it by eye: Look at the roots on the bottom of the flask. Are they strong and healthy with green tips? If it’s an orchid with a pseudobulb, have any bulbs formed? Have the plantlets grown since you’ve had the flask (remembering that Cymbidium plantlets will always be bigger than, say, Dendrobium plantlets)? If yes, then it’s likely time to deflask. Spring and summer are the best times to deflask.

If the flask has become contaminated (it can happen) and plants are dying an emergency deflasking will be necessary – but may not be successful.

How do I open the flask? There was more than one answer to this question. Lee Neale and Conrad Coenen like to unscrew the top just one twist and leave the bottle for a day or three, then half-untwist it and leave again before fully removing the lid and leaving again. This procedure, which takes 1-2 weeks, is to let the plants acclimatisate and harden a little before they’re removed.

Andy Easton (a New Zealand-born orchid breeder and grower now living in Colombia) moves his flasks to the area where the plants they contain will grow and lets them adjust to the situation before taking them out.

Monika, however, simply jiggles her plants away from the base end of the bottle and slices through the plastic with a bread knife. If using this method, prepare the worktop and have ready a bowl of lukewarm water, paper towels, sterilised tools, potting mix and a pot or several pots.

What do I do with the plants? Slide them into a bowl of lukewarm water and gently swish to release roots from the agar gel. If there is a contamination problem, Physan can be used in the water at the rate the manufacturer lists for orchid seedlings.

Andy Easton then leaves the plants on a paper towel and only pots on when the roots are white (dry). Monika pots immediately.

Deflasked plants in a community pot with the potting mix visible. Photo: Sandra Simpson

What’s the best potting medium? Monika talked about several media – she doesn’t use sphagnum moss, finding it hard to control its moisture content. “If it’s too wet, it’s also cold and will rot the plants. Once it goes crispy [dries out] it’s hard to rehydrate. Keeping it damp but not too wet is hard.”

She washes No2 bark (Kiwi Orchid Bark) the day before she wants to use it so it’s damp but not wet, and mixes this with perlite/pumice for potting. “The size of the bark is essential – No3 will create too many air gaps.” Conrad noted that mined NZ pumice will have too much zinc in it for plantlets so check the label before buying.

Monika also uses Fernwood treefern fibre, mixing it with No2 bark, and has had good results. “It holds the moisture but is also free-flowing,” and she finds it naturally warm whatever the ambient temperature. She uses two-thirds fern/ one-third bark.

Monika adds holes to her plastic community pots and is trialling copper tape around the top to deter slugs and snails. Photo: Sandra Simpson

What size pot should I use? The plants are used to growing closely together and appear to do best in a ‘community pot’ in their first growing season out of the flask. Monika uses clear, round plastic ‘bowls’ which aren’t too deep. She adds holes around the side and bottom.

“A transparent pot helps you see how much moisture is in the pot and whether there are any problems. If you can fit the whole flask into one pot, do it. The more plants there are, the more roots there are to absorb moisture.”

If the pot is deep, use large pumice or bark at the bottom and potting mix to the length of the roots and a little more. The chunky pieces at the bottom will also help drainage, which is crucial at this stage.

Where do I keep the pots? Monika has a heated growing house but for the rest of us, a mini-greenhouse has been endorsed by several members (like this one, available from Bunnings). Keep some water in the bottom for humidity and on hot days don’t forget to open the vents in the top.

A plant potted on from its community pot. Photo: Sandra Simpson

When should I pot on? One growing season, including one winter, in a community pot is enough. Don’t overpot the plants when they come out of the community pot, although Monika admits it can be hard finding the right size pot for plants with stiff roots. She is using Dalton’s small square pots (2019 pot catalogue here) and has also used round hydroponic seedling pots (see here or here). The medium remains the same (No2 bark with whatever else you’ve used before).

Can I mount deflasked plants? Monika advises putting plants destined for a mount into a community pot first and let them grow new roots. “The roots from the flask won’t attach to the mount.” If you mount a plant in spring, she said the roots will attach in 2-3 months. She doesn’t use any media around the roots of a mounted plant and especially advises against sphagnum moss. “The roots will go into it to seek moisture but may become suffocated”. Any extra moisture they need (beyond watering) can be had from the air.

What are the most important things to know after deflasking? 80% of your success will be down to environment, Monika said. Even cool-growing plants need more warmth to start them off out of the flask.
Water: Keep plants evenly moist as roots will not be adjusted to wet/dry.
Fertiliser: Fertilise as soon as the plants are deflasked at half-strength. Roy Neale advises that any plants with a pseudobulb will be heavier feeders.
Humidity: Plants will grow better in higher humidity but will survive if everything else is good and the humidity isn’t optimal. There must be good air movement with higher humidity.
Light: Slowly adjust the plants to the light they will receive as mature plants. Start them off slightly shadier, moving into more light after 2-4 weeks. The leaves are more sensitive at this early stage.

Note: The Orchid Council of NZ last month published an information sheet about importing plants. Read it here (opens as a pdf).

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Tauranga Orchid Show 2019 trophies

The trophy presentation more or less closed the Tauranga Orchid Show yesterday. Well done to all the winners, and all those who won placings for their plants. The full set of results is available here. Many thanks to Pam Signal of the BOP Judging Group for preparation of the results.

Tauranga Orchid Society president Conrad Coenen (right) presents Craig Parsons with the Natalie Simmonds Trophy for Champion Specimen Plant. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Andy Price, Hinemoa Orchids (Whakatane) with the Alec Roy Cup for Best Cymbidium. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Holding the Reserve Champion Trophy are Tania Langen and Hubert Muisers of Ninox Orchids (Whangarei). Photo: Sandra Simpson
Craig Parsons (left) is presented with the tray for Grand Champion of the show. Photo: Sandra Simpson

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The winners are …

Judging took place at the Tauranga Orchid Show this morning, keeping the hall buzzing as the various groups deliberated their choices. But finally not only were placing certificates slipped on to plants, but the trophies were decided too.

Not surprisingly Tauranga club member Craig Parsons won large for his huge Dendrobium nobile that comes complete with a section of tree trunk! Craig told the story of this plant in a 2018 post. Read it here.

Craig Parsons holds the Grand Champion tray, while beside him is the Natalie Simmonds Memorial Trophy for Champion Specimen Plant. Photo: Sandra Simpson
How big is the plant? This shot of it being prepared for its official photo gives some idea. From left, Craig Parsons, Chris Hubbert and Ute Rank. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Reserve Champion is Miltoniopsis Princess Diana ‘Red Baron’ grown by Hubert Musiers and Tania  Langen (Ninox Orchids) of Whangarei. Photo: Sandra Simpson
The Alec Roy Memorial Cup for Champion Cymbidium went to Cym. Night Jasmine ‘Kannika’ x Devonianum, bred and grown by Andy Price of Whakatane (Hinemoa Orchids). Photo: Sandra Simpson
It’s not often you have the person an orchid was named for and the orchid bearing that name in the same room, but here’s Kannika Price beside the orchid that bears her name. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Champion display: Helen McDonald 1st, Leroy Orchids 2nd, Patricia Hutchins (Sunvale Orchids) 3rd. All small displays and all beautifully presented. Great to see Helen and Patricia (both TOS members) do so well.

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Orchid Show taster

If today’s wet weather put you off from venturing out, here’s a little photo teaser from the Tauranga Orchid Show to tempt you to visit tomorrow or Sunday – open 10am-4pm at Tauranga Racecourse, $3 entry (under-12 free). Champion plants will be chosen tomorrow.

The kokedama (Japanese moss ball) demonstrations at 11am and 2pm have proved popular and lots of happy buyers left with a kokedama orchid. See you there!

Cattleya Fire Magic ‘Solar Flare’ is grown by Diane Hintz of Te Puke. Photo: Sandra Simpson
 Laelia superbiens (formerly a Schomburgkia) is displayed on the Whangarei Orchid Society stand. The plant has large ‘puffball’ flower heads on long, thin canes. As tall as me! Photo: Sandra Simpson
Sarcochilus weinthalli, grown by Patricia Hutchins of Sunvale Orchids in Gisborne, is an Australian native species. Photo: Sandra Simpson
A Miltoniopsis (pansy orchid) displayed by Ninox Orchids, Whangarei. Photo: Sandra Simpson
Rhyncholaeliocattleya Village Chief North ‘Green Genius’ is grown by Lee and Roy Neale of Leroy Orchids, Auckland. Photo: Sandra Simpson
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Tauranga Orchid Show 2019

Our theme this year is Plenty – so plenty of orchids!

Please join us at Tauranga Racecourse from October 11-13, 10am-4pm daily. Entry is $3 with under 12s free.

What will you see? Tauranga, Bay of Plenty and Whangarei orchid societies, and Leroy Orchids (Auckland) will all have orchid displays, and the BOP Bromeliad Group will also stage a display. Plants will be available from commercial growers from Whangarei, Auckland, Wairoa, Napier and Whakatane, as well as the Western Bay, and the popular Posy Sales stand is back.

New this year are demonstrations on making kokedama balls (seen right) for orchids – essentially growing orchids in a moss ball, not a pot. These will take place at 11am and 2pm daily.

Our always-popular rolling repotting demonstrations will continue at other times and growing advice will be freely available from members at any time.

Tauranga Orchid Society has a special ‘taster’ membership offer for the show – $12 until April 2020 when a regular sub ($25 single; $35 family) kicks in. It’s cheap enough that we hope you will try out the club to see if it fits.

Our usual great raffles will be on offer, we have a cafe for a refreshing cuppa and there’s plenty of free parking.

The show will be free of single-use plastic bags this year. Our vendors have made a great effort and will have paper bags, cloth bags and multi-use fully recyclable plastic bags. You’re very welcome to bring your own forever bags and boxes for purchases.

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National Expo: Wrap

My little laptop went phut on the second day of Expo, hence no further postings (I finished the post below this one on my phone which was no fun). So here’s a wrap-up of a few bits and pieces.

The Manawatu Evening Standard reported that 2,600 people had visited the Expo and the organisers I spoke to were pleased with entry numbers.

Tauranga member Helen McDonald made an individual entry in the Table-top Display section and ‘Memories of Japan’ was placed a very creditable second (Nelson Orchid Society was first).

Helen McDonald’s Table-top Display at the Expo. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Tauranga/BOP members recognised by OCNZ for 25 years of judging service were: Diane Hintz, Pam Signal and Trevor Signal.

Diane Hintz (front) receives her 25-year service certificate from OCNZ president Margaret Lomas. Photo: Murray Dean
Bill Liddy with his Dendrobium Jiggi, Champion Australasian Native Orchid. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Bill Liddy was presented with an Award of Honour for outstanding service to OCNZ, including his decade-long stewardship of the Iwitahi Native Orchid Reserve (on the Napier-Taupo highway).

Australian grower David Banks was the after-dinner speaker (he also appeared on the lecture programme) and was full of entertaining thoughts and ideas. “When I’ve matured a bit more with orchids,” he said (after earlier telling us he attended his first show at the age of 5 and is now 54!), “I’ll start to grow clivias.” Read more about his business, Hills District Orchids.

He also reminded his audience that we don’t grow orchids to win prizes but because we love them.

Reserve Champion was Paphiopedilum lowii ‘Katipo’, grown by Jason Strong. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Both the Grand Champion and Reserve Champion plants were exhibited on Chris Whitby’s commercial display. Chris also achieved personal success by growing the Champion Hybrid plant, Paphiopedilum Vogue Wonder ‘Shellnick’.

Thomas Petrie, grower of the Grand Champion orchid, is only 33 and has been growing orchids for 15 years! He trained at Wellington Botanic Gardens. Read more about Thomas here.

Champion Pleione (an award sponsored by the Tauranga Orchid Society) was Pleione Loulan ‘Elegance’ grown by Graham Jackson of the Manawatu Orchid Society. Graham was one of the lead organisers of the Expo and tireless in his efforts. Photo: Sandra Simpson

I know we all came home and slept the sleep of the hard-working so I daresay the organising committee may still be catching up. No one has stepped forward to offer to host the next Expo … as yet …

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