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Originating from Costa Rica and the Lesser Antilles south to Argentina, the Cattleya orchid family boasts a genus of 113 species with showy flowers ranging from white to purple. The specie was titled after William Cattley in 1824, an English botany enthusiast and also the first person being able to bloom a Cattleya. The name was given to the orchid family by William’s friend and colleague, John Lindley. Cattley imported plants from Brazil to England when he noticed a strange bulb used as packaging material. Her then cultivated the bulb and it grew into ‘The Queen of Flowers’ as it is known today.


This occurred after William Swainson discovered the plant in Pernambuco, Brazil in 1817 after which it was sent to Glasgow Botanical Gardens for identification. He later requested that a few plants are sent to William Cattley who managed to bloom them in less than a year. Surprisingly, another 70 years gone by before the plants were rediscovered in nature after a confusion relating to their location.


Today, Cattleyas are not surpassed by any of the other orchid families in the race for the most popular orchid. Even though in some areas or among some individual growers other orchid families are very popular or even the preferred, the Cattleya has been the driving force of the orchid trade and has done the most to stimulate orchid growing as a hobby.

Cattleyas are recognised for their large, eye-catching flowers, and were used extensively in hybridisation for the cut-flower trade until the 1980s when pot plants became more popular. This orchid family consists of forty-eight species excluding many hybrids. The flowers can vary in size ranging from 5cm to 15cm or even more. The number of flowers carried can vary from a single flower, up to ten flowers per stalk. Bloom colours can range from whites and yellows to deep reds and lavender, most colours except for true blue and black.


A typical Cattleya flower shows off three rather narrow sepals and three usually broader petals of which two petals are alike; the third is quite different with its noticeable lip, featuring various markings and an often frilly border. With this specie, each stalk grows from a pseudobulb and leaves are thick, leathery or fleshy.

The specie are referred to as epiphytic because of its ability to grow on trees or rocks. Cattleyas are also sympodial which means that they grow sideways, occurring from a connecting stem which grows horizontally.


The genus is divided into two sections: the first is distinguished by the club-shaped pseudobulbs which bear but a single leaf, while the second has long, spindle-shaped pseudobulbs bearing two leaves. The flowers of the unifoliate (one-leaved) group generally are larger, with broader flower segments; the flowers of the bifoliate group have narrower petals and sepals, smaller but thicker flowers.

Despite its tropical origins, Cattleyas are easy to grow. They do not like direct sunlight, but prefer shade during the hottest part of the day. That said, they thrive in a well-lit room with consistent temperatures. Watering you Cattleyas also needs to be timed carefully; it is suggested that you only water your plant once the potting medium has dried.



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