August 21, 2011

Sophronitis coccinea 'Fourth Dimension'

About a year ago I received a division of a selected clone of Sophronitis coccinea from my good friend, Duane McDowell, who also gave it its clonal name.  It has finally bloomed on a summer growth, not its usual bloom time but welcome nevertheless.  It is a plant that seems to need to be established before blooming, but I have been waiting very impatiently for its first bloom.

The plant is typical for this species, 9-10 cm tall with leaves that are almost solid dark purple when grown under high light.  The flower is a bit smaller than other plants I've grown, 6 cm across, but is beautifully formed with very large petals, by far the best clone I've ever had.  I should add though, that the flowers continue to increase in size for quite some time after they open and perhaps this still has a ways to go.

Soph. coccinea is probably the most beautiful of all the cool-growing miniature orchids and has been extensively used in hybridizing Cattleyas to produce both miniature plants and sunset colors.  It has been much bred by the Japanese who have produced clones that are less temperamental and more warmth tolerant, but it remains some difficult to grow well unless its requirement are met exactly.

Mine never dries out and the temperatures never go above 80 degrees (27 Celsius), and are usually around 70 dropping into the 60's at night.  I grow it in live sphagnum in a clay pot (which, I believe, helps keep the plant cool through evaporation).  It produces mostly blind leads through the summer and never seems to bloom on every growth, but is a beauty nonetheless.

The species is native to Brazil but is increasingly rare in the wild due to over-collecting, most of it illegal.  It is one miniature orchid I would not be without and which I've grown now for many years, with varying success.  It is available from a number of dealers, often as seedlings from carefully selected crosses and can be quite expensive to purchase, especially in its rarer forms.

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