Cymbidium (SIM-bid-ee-uh m)
The history of the Cymbidium Orchid is just about as colourful as its breath taking spray. Described in the early 1800s, its modern genus name is derived from the Latin word “Cymb” meaning boat. Its name is evident with four striking and pointy petals centred around a lip that creates a hollow trough resembling a small boat floating on gentle waves. Whilst it may have been first described in 1815, the Cymbidium has travelled long and far through time to arrive at what we now see as a common accompaniment in most of our homes.
The first appreciation of Cymbidiums came from ancient China during the days of Confucius. As collectors’ items, these highly regarded and prized flowers were often mentioned in Chinese poetry and adorned across canvas, materialising as a work of art. True to its Asian association, the Cymbidium originates from the high-up forests of the Himalayas. As it extends across the mountains of India, the Asiatic Cymbidium belt winds through China, Korea and Japan and across to Northern Australia.
In later years, valued for their arresting scent and colour pallet, upper-class European chateau owners took to hybridising this floral creation, with some of the most significant amalgams stemming from their gardens. Blowing across the ocean, many hybrids were also then produced in California. Now, was is interesting is how this movement occurred; from Europe to America.
During 1939 to 1945, World War Two pulsed through Europe and the world. The greenhouse growers that culminated in Europe as the centre of the orchid world saw their cherished creations being devastated by fighting and bomb blasts. “Sell the plants, or lose them,” was the morose sentiment that resonated through the farms. And with that, the centre of the Orchid world jumped land and sea to arrive in the Americas with the establishment of the Cymbidium Society in 1946.
Throughout the years the Cymbidium has been revered for its uniquely shaped petals, its spectrum of colours boasting: white, yellow, green, pink, red and brown and - for some of the species - a stunning fragrance, reportedly described by Confucius as the “king of Fragrance.” The Cymbidium creates quite a picture with its long slender leaves and narrow stems that can grow to heights between 60 to 90 centimetres. The orchid is sympodial, with duplicate stems or pseudobulbs growing horizontally from one connecting stem and each Cymbidium flower can have a diameter of five to ten centimetres.
It is always important to try and replicate, as far as possible, the natural environment of the Orchid. In this way you can enjoy it as you would in its natural habitat where it abounds. Unlike most orchids that are epiphytes, The Cymbidium is a terrestrial plant, meaning that it grows in the ground. In saying so, the Cymbidium should live within a large pot with lush potting mix that is nice and damp. If well taken care of, from the time the first bud opens, the sprays will remain in bloom for the next two to three weeks.
How to Grow (South Africa)
Cymbidiums need high light intensity, but shade from hot sun to grow and bloom. A shade house covered with 50% to 60 % shade cloth (black or green) is recommended. Alternatively, dappled shade from trees (evergreen) or other plants will suffice (easterly aspect). The colour of the foliage is the best indicator for optimal light intensity : a golden-green leaves(Granny Smith apple) show optimal light, while rich dark green are very likely not receiving sufficient sunlight and will rarely flower ! Plants may have to be moved around to achieve best growing conditions as most plants are grown to shady during summer outdoors. Direct sunlight during the hottest time of the day (10h00 TO 15h00) will result in burning of leaves.
During the warmer months (October to March) when actively growing, Cymbidiums can handle copious amounts of water. During this time the growing medium should never dry out completely. To achieve this, plants may need to be watered daily during hot, dry weather. Remember watering during late afternoon/early evening will help to achieve temperature drop to initiate flower spikes. In winter a weekly watering should be enough. The better the quality of the water (e.g. rain water), the better your plant will grow, and the better fertilizers will work.
Outdoor with shaded net or under tree.
Cymbidiums will tolerate a wide range of temperatures, from light frost to considerable summer heat (+40C) for short periods. Leaves usually wont damage during cold spells but flower spikes and flowers are soft and must be protected. Cold winds which causes black frost and acts as extra cooling factor is your biggest threat. During extreme heat plants should be cooled down by watering or misting during late afternoon/early evening and early mornings, not during the heat of the day. Remember as a substantial overnight temperature drop is needed in summer to initiate flowering, this is best achieved by watering late in the day.
Cymbidiums are heavy feeders and must be fertilized to grow and bloom. During the growth season (spring through to late summer), high nitrogen fertilizer should be used. In late summer, use high-phosphorus, bloom-booster fertilizer to help with spike formation. We recommend foliar feed fertilizers which are more effective (time and money), and which will give you the best results – lots of flowers on healthy plants The more often you feed the better they will grow and flower.
With good culture, Cymbidiums are relatively pest-free. They are subjected to infestations of several types of scale, spider mites (on the underside of the leaves), aphids on buds and flowers as well as snails and slugs. Obtain reliable recommendations as what is best to use from qualified personnel and follow all directions carefully.
Bacterial rot, fungal rot as well as suspected viral infections - get professional advice (Nursery or Dealer) as these diseases are not easy to diagnose and very few can be treated.
The most ideal humidity is between 55% to 65%.
Cymbidiums are best repotted in spring, as soon as possible after flowering. Try to repot every two years or when the potting medium decomposes. Your plants will flower better when growing inside the pot. When repotting or dividing plants; remove all old potting mix and trim roots (1/3 to1/2 of root ball). If you are dividing plants, make sure that 3-4 bulbs with leaves are left together to bloom. Backbulbs can be planted in grid or fine bark to start a new plant that will flower in 3- 4 years. The junction of roots and pseudobulbs should be about 1 cm below the top of the mix. When using bark chips pre-treat by pouring boiling water over, then soaking in fertilizer water for two days to change wettability of bark.
Cymbidiums are mostly grown as pot plants in South Africa. Plants for sale are commonly grown in rock wool, bark chips, sphagnum mix, coconut husk chips, rock chips or a mixture of all. In all cases, the growing medium must be free-draining neutral to slightly acidic in nature and not too small in particle size.