Archives For orchid

While we are in the midst of the exquisite Orchid Show, the Garden is already planning a summer of Brazil in the Garden, highlighting the influence of Brazil on gardens, arts and culture, and conservation. This seems like a great opportunity to publicize some Brazilian orchids that have been among my favorites all the years I have grown orchids at home.

PHOTO: Cattleya coccinea and hybrids from the Wisconsin Orchid Society Show on February 26, 2017.

Cattleya orchid (Cattleya coccinea) and hybrids from the Wisconsin Orchid Society Show on February 26, 2017—my plants!

First, a few facts.

Brazil has one of the highest diversities of orchid species of any country in the world, with more than 2,500 species reported, and no doubt many more undescribed species from the botanically unexplored interior. If you enjoy orchids at all, you have already seen Brazilian orchid species or the hybrids derived from them. Just a few of the well-known orchids that are indigenous to Brazil are many of the Cattleya species as well as many of the former Sophronitis and Laelia species now included in Cattleya; also species from Epidendrum, Maxillaria, Miltonia, Oncidium, Phragmipedium, Stanhopea, and others. The national flower of Brazil—Cattleya purpurata (formerly Laelia purpurata)—is also an orchid.

The native orchids of Brazil are often epiphytes growing on trees and shrubs, but can also be terrestrial, and even lithophytes (growing on rocks). They can be found from hot and humid lowland tropical areas, to seasonally dry and cooler interior regions, to high elevations in cloud forests. The care of Brazilian orchids and their hybrids in cultivation is as varied as the number of species and their habitats, but where they naturally occur provides clues for how to grow them in cultivation. Luckily, the vast orchid literature available often includes information on their culture. 

Which brings us to Cattleya coccinea, the compact—yet brilliant—jewel of my orchid collection.

Cattleya coccinea

PHOTO: Cattleya coccinea

Cattleya coccinea

Formerly recognized and still more commonly referred to as Sophronitis coccinea, C. coccinea is one of perhaps six to nine species and as many varietal color forms included in the former genus Sophronitis. While all the species are delightful in their own right, C. coccinea is the best known. It has long been grown, line-bred (crossed within the species) to improve it, converted to tetraploids (double the typical number of chromosomes) to produce plants with even larger flowers, and especially used in breeding to impart large bold flowers on compact plants. Literally thousands of orchid hybrids have C. coccinea lurking in their background. But I prefer the species or hybrids that are at least 25 to 50 percent C. coccinea, and so still bear a strong resemblance to the species.

Cattleya coccinea is a diminutive grower, with cylindrical pseudobulbs less than 1 inch tall, each topped by a solitary leaf all of 2 to 3 inches in height. A clue you are giving your C. coccinea sufficient light is when each leaf has a red stripe on top of the mid-vein. Under my growing conditions, C. coccinea can produce flowers any time from November to May, and will often bloom two or three times in succession. One to two flowers are produced per new pseudobulb. The flowers can be from 1 to nearly 3 inches wide in the best forms, dwarfing the plant. Flowers are a brilliant red to orange-red with some yellow and/or orange in the small lip. Look for forms with flat flowers and broad overlapping petals. They are always a draw in bloom. Related species are less frequently encountered. Cattleya cernua (Sophronitis cernua) has much smaller flowers but produces more per growth, is very vigorous, and tolerates warmer summer temperatures. There are yellow-flowered versions of both C. coccinea and C. cernua, but these are very hard to find and are priced accordingly. Cattleya wittigiana is similar to C. coccinea but with attractive rosy-pink flowers instead. It has been put to good use in breeding. Confusingly, C. wittigiana is also known as C. rosea, Sophronitis wittigiana, and Sophrontis rosea. The other species are rarely seen.

PHOTO: Cattleya-dichroma-(formerly-Sophronitis-bicolor)

Cattleya dichroma (formerly Sophronitis bicolor)

Tips on cultivating Cattleya coccinea

Culture of Cattleya orchids can be demanding. In its relatively high-elevation native habitats in Brazil, C. coccinea is an epiphyte on trees and shrubs, receiving strong light to full sun, high humidity, strong air movement, and cool temperatures. Try to duplicate these conditions in cultivation. I grow mine mostly in New Zealand sphagnum moss in small clay pots, replacing the moss every winter. They can also be mounted on small pieces of cork bark with a bit of sphagnum moss to help retain moisture. Do not repot them in the summer. Cool temperatures are optimal, with nights as low as 45 degrees Fahrenheit (I aim for around 52-degree nights) and day temperatures no higher than 86 degrees in the summer. Constant high relative humidity and excellent air movement are essential. Never allow the roots to dry out for too many days. These are also sensitive to hard water. If you can, water with rainwater if your water quality is suspect. I fertilize mine weekly when in growth with a variety of fertilizers, alternating 15-5-15 Cal Mag with an occasional 30-10-10 acid feed. (Other growers rarely fertilize at all. It is a matter of personal preference and cultural conditions.)

The former Sophronitis species are not for beginning orchid growers. But with attention to their cultural preferences, they can thrive in the hands of experienced orchid growers. I adore them for their interesting foliage, dwarf habits, and their vibrant and glowing flowers that dwarf the plants. Look for their easier-to-grow hybrids as well.

PHOTO: Cattleya Wild Fire, a hybrid of Cattleya coccinea and Cattleya wittigiana.

Cattleya ‘Wild Fire’, a hybrid of Cattleya coccinea and Cattleya wittigiana


The Chicago Botanic Garden does not have any of the former Sophronitis species in its collections (I’ll work on that), but there is a good chance that at least some of the species, or hybrids from them, will be on display at the Illinois Orchid Society Spring Show, held March 11 and 12 here at the Garden. The IOS show, which is layered on top of the Garden’s Orchid Show, will include numerous exhibits, judging of the best plants, multiple vendors with plants and growing supplies for sale, an information desk, and a repotting station. Also, look for Brazil in the Garden in our many gardens and events this summer.

Be sure to visit!


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Attention orchid fans: our vanilla orchid is blooming in the Tropical Greenhouse at the Chicago Botanic Garden. It’s a rare occurrence in the wild—and in a greenhouse. Wade Wheatley, assistant horticulturist, seized the moment to hand-pollinate the flower. 

Vanilla planifolia before pollination

Vanilla planifolia before pollination

Why hand pollinate? In hopes of producing a vanilla bean. Yes, the fruit of a vanilla orchid is used to make pure vanilla extract, which flavors many foods we enjoy.

Vanilla vines typically begin to flower at five years or older. Flowers are produced in clusters, with one flower opening each day in the morning. Stop by the Tropical Greenhouse soon to see what’s in bloom. 


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Our Scientist Takes on Thomas Jefferson

...his vanilla ice cream recipe, that is.

Karen Z. —  March 13, 2015 — Leave a comment

Hear “vanilla” and what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Ice cream, right?

While we were researching vanilla for our annual Orchid Show, we kept discovering new scoops on vanilla ice cream.

PHOTO: Plain vanilla ice cream cone.First we learned that one-third of all the ice cream that Americans eat is vanilla.

Next, we learned about vanilla beans’ different flavors—at a tour of the Nielsen-Massey Vanillas facility in nearby Waukegan. (Who knew that vanilla extract was produced right here in Chicago?)

And then we came across Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten recipe for vanilla ice cream at the Library of Congress—such a beautiful document that we included a copy of it in the Orchid Show. (The knowledgeable staff at the Library of Congress pointed out that there’s a second recipe on the back of Thomas Jefferson’s vanilla ice cream notes—for the Savoy cookies to accompany it.)

All those moments dovetailed nicely when our own orchid expert, Pati Vitt, Ph.D., got inspired to make her own homemade vanilla ice cream. Naturally, as a scientist, she set herself a bigger challenge: to tackle Jefferson’s thorough (albeit old-fashioned) recipe, using three different types of vanilla beans kindly provided by Nielsen-Massey.

We had to document Dr. Vitt’s ice cream-making adventure: see how she interpreted Jefferson’s recipe—and what three guest chefs/tasters had to say about the flavor—in our video (view on YouTube).

PHOTO: Jefferson's vanilla ice cream recipe: Holograph, 1780s. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

Holograph recipe, 1780s. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress Bookmark this item

Thomas Jefferson’s Ice Cream

(Jefferson’s lovely script can be hard to decipher, so here’s the recipe’s text in full.)

2 bottles of good cream
6 yolks of eggs
½ pound sugar

  • mix the yolks & sugar
  • put the cream on a fire in a casserole, first putting in a stick of vanilla.
  • when near boiling take it off & pour it gently into the mixture of eggs & sugar.
  • stir it well.
  • put it on the fire again stirring it thoroughly with a spoon to prevent it’s [sic] sticking to the casserole.
  • when near boiling take it off and strain it thro’ a towel.
  • put it in the sabottiere*
  • then set it in ice an hour before it is to be served. put into the ice a handful of salt.
  • put salt on the coverlid of the Sabottiere & cover the whole with ice.
  • leave it still half a quarter of an hour.
  • then turn the Sabottiere in the ice 10 minutes
  • open it to loosen with a spatula the ice from the inner sides of the Sabottiere.
  • shut it & replace it in the ice
  • open it from time to time to detach the ice from the sides
  • when well taken (prise) stir it well with the Spatula.
  • put it in moulds, justling it well down on the knee.
  • then put the mould into the same bucket of ice.
  • leave it there to the moment of serving it.
  • to withdraw it, immerse the mould in warm water, turning it well till it will come out & turn it into a plate.

*Footnote from the Library of Congress: A “sabottiere” is an ice cream mold (“sorbetière” in modern French).

Vitt’s notes:

  • You can use the recipe without modification, just cooling the mixture in an ice bath and then in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.
  • One tablespoon of vanilla extract may substitute for the vanilla bean.
  • The recipe makes about 4 pints (2 quarts, or one ½ gallon).

BONUS RECIPE!

Ice cream wasn’t the only vanilla treat on Vitt’s mind: she also canned a batch of vanilla spice apple butter (we shared it in a meeting—delicious!) and made her own vanilla sugar. Vitt agreed to share her recipe—and presented it all so charmingly, with handcrafted labels, trims, and tags, that we had to include a photo, too. 

Vanilla Spice Apple Butter

PHOTO: Pati Vitt's vanilla apple butter.

Vitt not only agreed to share her recipe for vanilla apple butter with us—but presented it all so charmingly, with handcrafted labels, trims, and tags.

Wash, core, and slice 8 to 12 apples (Granny Smiths, or a mix of varieties) to fill a 6-quart crockpot to about 1½ inches from the top; add ½ cup of apple cider. Cook until completely soft—about the consistency of apple sauce.

Using a food processor, sieve, or Foley mill, puree the sauce. Put the mixture back into the crockpot, along with half of a fresh vanilla bean. Cook several hours on the “low” setting of your crockpot until the extra liquid cooks off and the mixture begins to thicken. (Place the lid of your crockpot slightly off kilter to allow steam to escape. This will speed up the evaporation and thickening of the mixture.)

After the apple butter begins to thicken, add ½ cup sugar and the juice of one lemon. Cook an additional 30 minutes. Stir in cinnamon to taste, plus a pinch each of ground cardamom and cloves. 

Pour into hot, sterilized jars and place in a canning bath according to your canner’s recommendations for applesauce—usually about 10 minutes.

For more ideas—sweet and savory—for cooking with vanilla, check out our February issue of the Smart Gardener.


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A Sip of Salep

Karen Z. —  March 4, 2015 — 1 Comment

We gathered around a table at the Garden View Café the other day to taste something that only one of us had ever tasted before: powdered orchid roots.

A traditional winter drink in the cafés and restaurants of Turkey, salep is made from the tuberous roots of orchids—specifically, terrestrial orchids in the genus Orchis. Dried and powdered, the resulting flour is combined in a drink mix with other ingredients, much as hot chocolate or chai spices would be: sugar, cornstarch, powdered milk, cinnamon, and vanillin (the main flavor component in vanilla) are added.

PHOTO: Salep and dendrobium orchids.

A warm cup of salep is perfect on a wintry day.

The instructions are hot-chocolate simple, too: mix 1½ tablespoons of powdered salep into 6 ounces of steamed or boiling milk. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Serve in small cups.

Our lesson in salep came from the one person who had not only tasted salep before but had grown up drinking it—horticulturist Ayse Pogue, who hails from Istanbul.

PHOTO: Horticulturist Ayse Pogue

Horticulturist Ayse Pogue

Salep is not readily available in America; it arrived here courtesy of Ayse’s mother, Figen Ormancioglu, who kindly brought it with her on a recent visit. (The family surname translates as “son of the forester”—Ayse’s love of botany is in her blood.)

What does salep taste like? “Chai,” “junipers,” and “I’ll have another glass,” were three answers; the flavor is hard for American taste buds to define. Sweet and savory and spicy all at once, there’s a note of bark or tree in it—Ayse explains that gum arabic, made from the sap of the acacia tree, is also an ingredient, one more familiar to eastern palates than western.

And what is served with salep? “Good conversation,” Ayse says, as is true of all café drink orders. Heading to Istanbul? You’ll spend $4 to $5 on a cup of salep in a city café.

Edible Orchids

We’ve been talking a lot about edible orchids recently, especially with vanilla as a prominent part of this year’s Orchid Show. While vanilla is, by far, the most well-known food produced from orchids (it’s the bean-like fruit of the vining orchid Vanilla planifolia), other orchids are eaten in different ways around the world.

  • Chikanda is a Zambian food made from pounded orchid tubers and thickened to the consistency of jelly, then served in slices.
  • Olatshe is a daily dish in Bhutan, where Cymbidium orchids are cooked with spices and cheese.
  • Some Dendrobium flowers are edible, and the bamboo-like canes are ingredients in Asian stir-fries and sauces.
  • Turkish ice cream, or dondurma, is also made from salep; some dondurma is so chewy and elastic that it can be sliced and eaten with a knife and fork.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Student…Teacher

A Story of Orchid Art

Karen Z. —  February 3, 2015 — Leave a comment

Some orchid stories are epic—like the ancient Central American myth of a goddess who rooted herself into the Earth as a vanilla vine in order to be near the mortal man she loved.

Some orchid stories are swashbucklers—tales of the high seas and the plant explorers (and pirates) who braved them in search of orchids from exotic lands.

And some orchid stories are mysteries—like the early struggle to understand how orchids reproduce (scientists could not see the microscopic seeds).

While gathering orchid stories for this year’s Orchid Show, I came across a story that isn’t quite epic or swashbuckling, but is, in its lovely way, a bit mysterious.

Here at the Garden, graphic designer Nancy Snyder has contributed her graphic and artistic talents in one capacity or another for 30 years. Print, banners, signage, exhibition design (her latest project is the Orchid Show)—Nancy has done it all, including teaching classes in drawing and painting at the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Nancy got her start at the University of Illinois, where she majored first in horticulture and later in medical illustration. The two subjects merged one day when she heard that one of her teachers, Dr. Michael Dirr, was working on an updated edition of his now-legendary Manual of Woody Landscape Plants.

PHOTO: Manual of Woody Landscape Plants title page.

Our own Nancy Snyder’s illustrations grace Dr. Michael Dirr’s classic Manual of Woody Landscape Plants.

“I asked if he needed any illustrations,” Nancy recalls now, “and he handed me a star magnolia twig to draw. I took it home, worked all night, and slipped the finished drawings under his office door the next morning.

“The next day, in the middle of Dr. Dirr’s lecture, he looked my way and announced, ‘By the way, Nancy, I got your illustrations, and they’re good. You’re hired.'”

And a botanical illustrator was born.

Fast forward to 2007.

Artist Heeyoung Kim moved to the Chicago area after studying education/psychology and teaching English in her native Korea and, later, in Germany.

“I had always drawn, and painted in oils as well, but at age 43, I wanted to do something more serious with art. One day I lined up all my drawings and realized that they were all of flowers.” Shortly thereafter, the Chicago Botanic Garden magazine (now Keep Growing) arrived in her mailbox, and she went in search of the Garden.

The first class that she signed up for was Botanical Illustration with Derek Norman. Heeyoung’s natural drawing talent was quickly recognized: eventually, Derek introduced Heeyoung to the native plants of Illinois, a subject that has become a personal passion in her art.

PHOTO: The hand of Nancy Snyder as she paints a leaf for a botanical watercolor illustration.

The technique of layering thin watercolor washes over and over again produces unexpectedly rich color “that still captures the transparent quality of living plant tissue,” says Nancy Snyder.

And then she signed up for her first watercolor painting class. Ever. The teacher: Nancy Snyder.

“I saw how Nancy layered the color washes over and over again,” Heeyoung says, “and after her demonstrations in class, I just sat down and started to paint.” Below is Heeyoung’s finished watercolor of a lady slipper orchid from the class.

“I’d use orchids as our models,” Nancy explains, “because they’re long-lasting. You can set up your little studio and paint for two weeks before the flowers change much—day after day it still looks the same. Speaking as a teacher,” Nancy adds, “some students come in with all the right raw ingredients, and just need guidance about materials or techniques or to see how it’s done. Then they take that information and synthesize it into their own style. That’s what happened with Heeyoung.”

ILLUSTRATION: Lady's slipper orchid by Nancy Snyder.

A Phragmipedium orchid watercolor by artist/graphic designer/teacher Nancy Snyder.

ILLUSTRATION: Phragmipedium 'Jason Fischer' watercolor on paper, by Heeyoung Kim, 2008.

Phragmipedium ‘Jason Fischer’, watercolor on paper, Heeyoung Kim, 2008

Works in Progress

“I’ve worked hard, and things are happening fast,” Heeyoung Kim says of two exciting upcoming events.

  • Heeyoung Kim has a solo show opening March 27, 2015, at Joel Oppenheimer Gallery in Chicago. She is the first living artist to be represented by that gallery.
  • Three of her drawings have been accepted for inclusion in the Transylvania Florilegium, presently being created under the aegis of the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, founded by HRH The Prince of Wales.

Fast forward to 2015.

Last November I ran into Heeyoung Kim at the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center and asked her what she’d been working on lately. “An orchid,” she replied, as she pulled out an extraordinary illustration of Cypripedium candidum, one of Illinois’s 45 native orchids. In classic botanical illustration style, each plant part is documented, so that the plant may be identified in every stage of growth.

Now, in a delicious twist of fate, Heeyoung’s intricate and delicate drawing is one of the illustrations that Nancy has chosen for the Orchid Show. And that bit of mystery I mentioned at the outset? Heeyoung started teaching classes at the Regenstein School in July 2012.

Student…teacher. It’s a good story. At the Orchid Show you’ll not only see 10,000 orchids, but also the talents of two students who became two Garden teachers.


©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org