The calanthe are beautiful terrestrial orchids, there are some hundreds of species, spread mainly in Asia, with some species in Madagascar and the islands of Oceania; they have been divided in two groups: the plants living in areas with cold winters tend to have a period of vegetative rest, and are called calanthe with deciduous leaves; the varieties native to the tropical areas, with warm climate all year round, are called evergreen calanthe.
They are medium sized plants, which produce long stems in spring, which carry magnificent inflorescences, which count very many flowers; some have panicle-like inflorescences, with the flowers blooming in succession; others, on the contrary, produce lighter inflorescences, with the less assimilated flowers, which recall those of the phalaenopsis.
LA flowering lasts for some weeks; the flowers are of various colours, from the candid white to the pink, from the yellow to the purple; there are also many hybrids, not always modern, seen that the calanthe was the first orchid to be hybridized in the western world, and these orchids had a particular moment of glory towards the end of the nineteenth century.
Contrary to what happens for most of the orchids we find in the nursery, some varieties do not fear the cold, and could therefore be cultivated also in the Italian gardens; others, on the contrary, have typical needs of the tropical plants, and therefore, in winter, they are cultivated in the house, or in a temperate greenhouse.
Evergreen orchid native to China and central Asia, spread also in mountainous areas; it has rhizomatous roots, which tend to widen with the time, does not have pseudobulbs, or produces small ones; each plant produces three big leaves, erect, coriaceous, characterized by evident veins, in relief, which can reach the 50-60 cm of height; in spring, it produces a stem, tall about 25-35 cm, erect, at the apex of which bloom several yellow flowers, united in a thick spike-shaped inflorescence; the flowers bloom in succession, and during the flowering, the withered, dark, flowers remain in the inflorescence.
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Species native to the Japanese mountains, evergreen and rustic, suitable also for living in the Italian gardens, if we remember to cover the pseudobulbs and the collar of the plant when the low autumn temperatures arrive; produces big rigid and erect leaves, ample, with a coriaceous appearance, of pale green colour, each pseudobulb may produce up to four ample leaves, tall about 25-35 cm; in spring, between the leaves, stands a thin ramified stem, which reaches the metre of height, which carries several white flowers, with the lower part brown or brown-pink.
Plant of fairly simple cultivation, it is placed in a shaded flower-bed, as the warm summer sun would ruin it irreparably.
Tropical origin orchid, diffused in southern Asia, in the pluvial forests; it has small pseudobulbs, which produce some big leaves, erect, enlarged, which can reach the 60 cm of height; at the base of the leaves, in spring, develops a thin erect stem, which carries a big and thick panicle of golden yellow flowers, very showy. The stem carrying the flowers can also be erected for 40-50 cm, giving the plant a majestic appearance for an orchid.
Orchid diffused in the wild in central and southern Asia, and also in southern Africa; the pseudobulbs are oval, and tend, with the years, to accestire; they produce big erect leaves, plicate, leathery, of dark green colour; in spring, between the leaves, stands a thick and rigid stem, which carries several big purple flowers. It prefers minimum temperatures above 10-12°C.
Orchid native to the Philippines, with deciduous leaves; it produces big leaves and a thin arched stem, ramified, characterized by a thin down, which carries the pink flowers; orchid which prefers warm and humid climate, and positions in mid-shade; the flowering takes place in autumn, and with the passing of the years, with the enlargement of the pseudobulbs, the floral stems tend to become bigger and bigger, up to 40-50 cm of length.
Cultivating the calender
These orchids are present in more than 150 species, plus the hybrid varieties; for this reason the climatic needs of the calanthe are among the most varied: there are plants that can be grown quietly in the garden, others that need the shelter of a cold greenhouse, others instead of tolerating temperatures below 12-15 ° C; for this reason, when we buy an orchid, let the grower inform us to understand if it will find room in the flowerbed with the hoste, or if instead we will have to make room on the shelf in the living room.
Most of the calanthe are large plants, which can easily reach 45-55 cm in height, when choosing the place where to grow it remember this feature, so that once the plant has developed can find all the space it needs. Most orchids offer a challenge for the growers, as they love very bright places; this does not happen for the calanthe, which prefer semi-shaded areas, as it happens in the undergrowth, where the direct sunlight never penetrates.
Let’s choose for these plants (both in pots and in the ground) a soil similar to the one we can find in the wood: soft and porous, which can keep the humidity, but which does not tend to compact. They are not epiphytic orchids, therefore they prefer a rich soil, formed by universal soil, mixed with little perlite or pumice stone (for increasing the drainage), and with coconut fibre, small pieces of bark, which have the function to keep the humidity for long time.
They do not need a great local humidity, but are to be watered with great regularity, avoiding to let the soil dry up completely and for long time. Therefore, during the summer season, they are to be watered even two or three times a week, whilst in the cold months, the watering will be sporadic. At least once a year, let’s bury close to the plant, a small dose of slow release granular fertilizer, which will guarantee the right content of mineral salts.
To obtain healthy and prolific plants, it is advisable to bury the pseudobulbs only for half, covering them then with an incoherent material, such as perlite or pumice stone, or expanded clay, in order to avoid that they receive too much humidity.
The caducous leaf calantas
The deciduous calantas are to be cultivated as it happens for most of the bulbous plants: as soon as close to the pseudobulbs we notice the development of shoots, we begin to water, and we repeat the watering until we notice that the foliage tends to yellow; at this point we can cut the leaves at the base, and let the soil dry up completely, we will start watering again the following spring, when the pseudobulbs will start to germinate again.
If we cultivate these calanthe in the garden, we shall unearth the pseudobulbs, and keep them in a cool, dark and dry place, till the spring. If, on the contrary, the plants are in pots, and the plants fear the frost, let’s remember to shelter them, but not in an excessively warm place, or they will have serious difficulties to go to rest, and therefore the following year they might not bloom.
Propagate the calanters
Obviously these plants produce seeds, as it happens for most of the plants; unfortunately it is not easy to propagate the orchids by seed, as the seeds are tiny and tend to germinate with difficulty, in addition to this, often the specimens present in Italy tend not to be pollinated, making the seeds unavailable.
Some species do not have pseudobulbs, but produce rhizomes which tend to widen horizontally, creating ever larger plants, with more floral stems; in autumn it is possible to divide these heads of rhizomes, producing new plants: we try to keep some big roots for each portion of the rhizome, which will favour the development of the new plant.
As far as the plants producing pseudobulbs are concerned, after the flowering, during the period of vegetative rest, we can divide the groups of more pseudobulbs, giving rise to new calanthe. If we have deciduous calantas, when the vegetative restart we can unearth them, gently clean up the roots and subdivide the various pseudobulbs in different pots, with fresh soil; we have to wait at least a couple of days after the transplant before starting again to water the new plants.
Every year, a pseudobulb will originate at least one new pseudobulb, or even a pair; therefore, from a single plant, with the passing of the years, we can get several new identical calanters.