Usually, when we think of an orchid, our imagination recalls memories of delicate plants, with very particular requirements, often with aerial roots, which should be cultivated only by the real lovers, on pain of the rapid death of all the specimens; the genus bletilla represents an incredible exception among the orchids spread in cultivation; it is, in fact, a terrestrial species, with rhizomatous roots, native to the fresh areas of Asia; these characteristics render it a garden plant, which can find space between the bulbous ones, or in the flower-beds of annual or of perennial ones.
This orchid, in fact, has underground roots, which develop wide nail-shaped bulb-tubes, thick and fleshy, from which are produced enlarged pseudobulbs, and a head of ribbon-shaped leaves, thin and leathery, with a wrinkled page, of a bright green colour; in spring, from the newly developed buds, stand thin dark stems, which carry some big flowers, usually of a bright pink or yellow colour.
The flowering lasts some weeks, and the plants which are cultivated in an optimal way, tend to till, and therefore from the first single tuber, many others are produced, giving origin to a stain of leaves and flowers. During the summer, all the flowers will already be withered, but the leaves guarantee a pleasant vegetation spot, even without flowers; they will wither in autumn, when the cold arrives, in order to come back the following spring.
Native to China, it is the most common variety in nurseries; it has light green leaves, which can exceed 25-30 cm in length, and forms large heads, which in spring are decorated with beautiful flowers of an intense purple color, large. This orchid is completely rustic, and can be grown in the garden as a common geophyte plant, such as tulips or hyacinths. There is a variety of striped bletilla with white flower, and also a variety with striated foliage.
- The Bletilla is an orchid that grows in the garden, in the ground, as it withstands the cold and produces strong rhizomes, which tend to widen; to this genus belong about ten spices, which can be found in the garden.
- Some species of orchids have very special flowers, with a curved labellum, closed to form a kind of shoe; orchids with cup-shaped lips belong to three main genus of orchids.
- The genus cattleya orchids counts about fifty species of epiphytes and lithophytes, native to South America; they are equipped with fleshy pseudobulbs, which may have dimensions close to the 5-7 cm, with a …
- It is a genus that includes many epiphytic orchids, originating in the wetlands and mountains of South America, from Mexico to Peru. They do not have pseudubulbs and the leaves are long and narrow, they are not…
Also B. ochracea is native to Asia; this orchid is surely more difficult to find in nursery than the previous species, it has pale yellow flowers. It is not resistant to the cold as bletilla striated, but surely it can find a place in the garden in areas with winters that are not excessively cold. The flowers are decidedly very decorative and showy.
While the previous two species of bletilla are very common and easy to find, bletilla formosana is a rare and unusual plant, very similar to the previous species, has larger flowers and a soft pink color. In nature it grows in the woods of China and Japan and is an endangered species; this makes it even more difficult to find for cultivation in the garden, and the price of tubers certainly increases markedly.
Cultivating the Bletilla
Usually in the garden we cultivate Bletilla striata and its hybrids; these are deciduous soil orchids, completely rustic, which can withstand temperatures close to -10°C. The cultivation is not difficult, as it is sufficient to place the thick tubers in a sunny place, with a soil rich in organic matter, soft and very well drained.
If the soil of our garden is compact or impoverished, then, before planting the tubers, let’s work it thoroughly, adding some manure, and possibly some fresh soil or sand, to improve the mixture. Let’s plant the tubers taking care not to position them too deeply. The blueberries need regular watering, from when we notice the first spring shoots, until autumn, when the temperatures drop.
Let’s avoid leaving the soil always soaked in water, but let’s not forget to water for many days, especially in summer, when the climate is very hot and sultry, but let’s avoid watering as soon as the climate becomes cold. Therefore, let’s water regularly, at least every 3-4 days, providing, every 12-15 days, a good fertilizer for flowering plants, using a dose half that recommended on the package.
In order to have every year many flowers and a rich vegetation, it is important to take care of the leaves even when there are no flowers, watering them and fertilizing them until, naturally and spontaneously, they will begin to yellow and dry up by the arrival of autumn; in this way, we will be sure that the bulb-tube has stored sufficient nourishment for the flowering of the following year.
The blueberries do not fear the frost, but it is however good to cover the area over the tubers with mulching material, so that they are slightly protected from the cold, also because usually these tuber bulbs tend to develop not completely underground, and therefore are completely exposed to the weather. If in spring the shoots sprout when they are still likely to freeze, let’s cover the ground with agritourism, to prevent the cold from ruining the shoots.
For the most delicate species and varieties of bletilla, pot cultivation is usually preferred, so that the pots can be placed in cold greenhouses (or in a sheltered place) between November and March, so that the frost does not spoil the tubers.
Propagating the Bletilla
The tubers of this orchid tend to naturally produce other small tubers, with which they produce real colonies, which can also become very large; the fastest and most certain method of propagation of the blueberries consists therefore in unearthing the tufts, and in taking some small tubers, which will then have to be planted individually; in this way we will be sure that the new plant will flower already the year after the transplant, and, furthermore, will surely produce flowers identical to that from which we have taken the tuber.
We can also divide the heads of pseudobulbs, making cuts with a well sharpened knife, and positioning the portions done in single containers, so that they can germinate. The flowers produce small capsules containing the seeds, which are usually fertile; the sowing of these orchids, however, is quite complex, also because the germinability of the seeds is very reduced in time.
Usually, we prefer the propagation by division of the tubers or of the pseudobulbs, also because the tiny small plants obtainable from seed may take some years before producing flowers.
Striped Bletilla: Pests and Diseases
The main problems that can be found with the blueberries are often due to problems connected to the climate or to the cultivation conditions; the plants cultivated in the complete shade tend not to bloom, and to deteriorate quickly; a soil always humid and rich of still water, tends to cause quickly the rottenness of tubers, rhizomes and pseudobulbs, irreparably; A very dry climate causes the rapid deterioration of the whole plant, which may even die if the drought is long and the climate is very hot.
Throughout the spring, the aphid is the number one enemy of the blue, which lurks on the shoots and buds, ruining them visibly and covering them with honeydew; they are eradicated using special insecticides.