A BEGINNERS VIEW OF PAPHIOPEDILUM CULTUREWhen I first started growing orchids I asked the question that most beginners ask: what species are the easiest for me to grow. The answer often was, "raise Paphiopedilum orchids (paphs), they are easy to grow and flower". So, I began collecting paphs, but before long I wondered why many of my paphs were not doing so well. I figured that it was time for me to learn more about the species, so I bought the books, sought out successful growers and started compiling my own data on Paphs. In a nutshell I found out that for newcomers to buy and raise Paphs is like walking through a mine field: if you step carefully you will succeed but if you make the wrong step you will probably fail. Let me explain.
Paphs are found throughout a wide area in China, the Indian and Indo-China subcontinents, and islands in the east Pacific. The growing conditions found in those far-flung areas varies widely. If you expect your paphs to flower, then you must provide them an environment similar to what the plant experiences at home. In order to do that you must know which species come from which area, and what culture conditions you should provide.
The species Paphiopedilum is divided into several sub-species and within those sub-species there are numerous groups. These lists can be found in all their complexity in most good books on paphs. What I have attempted to do here is to classify the plants into five basic culture groups, together with notes on the growing conditions each group requires.
Paphs grow in areas which are influenced by the southwest and northeast monsoons, the phenomena that determines the basic weather patterns in Asia. The southwest monsoon usually begins in April, at which time the prevailing wind is blowing from the southwest from India to Japan, picking up heavy moisture from the equatorial belt, sweeping it to the northeast and dumping copious amounts of moisture throughout the entire region. During the southwest monsoon the areas under its influence experience daily heavy rainfall on a schedule so reliable you could almost set your clock by the beginning and ending of the rain. The day usually starts out hot and humid: by midday the clouds have built up a heavy load of water which then pours down through the afternoon and sometimes into the evening.
Buy September or October the monsoon winds turn around 180 degrees and become what is called the northeast monsoon, bringing cooler and dryer air from the arctic regions down over the monsoon belt. There is virtually no rain throughout the northeast monsoon between October and March. Humidity is low, temperatures are much lower and nights are cooler.
So, when we think of "monsoon conditions" we realize that there are basically three seasons in the region: hot and wet from May to September; cool and dry from October to February and hot and dry from March to April (the period between the monsoons).
I have broken down the paph species into five groups and have listed culture conditions for each group.
Note: this report deals only with species. When considering hybrids, you are on your own! Keep in mind that both parents will be reflected in the genes of the hybrid plant, but the pod parent should exert the strongest influence. Culture conditions must be considered on a case-by-case basis.
If I have made any errors or omissions in this list I would appreciate being informed about them. Also, if you have any differing opinions I would like to hear from you. I hope the above helps you to grow and bloom bigger and better Paphs.
GENUS PAPHIOPEDILUM PFITZER 1886
Group 1 - Brachypetalum and ParvisepalumThese plants are herbaceous terrestrial or epilithic - growing only in lime-rich loam or sand, or in humus-filled crevices in limestone rocks in sheltered lees mostly shaded from direct sunlight. Their habitat is north of the equator into China. They want monsoon conditions. A cool, dry winter is essential for blooming the following summer. Can be grown outside in temperate climates. The leaves are tessellated (except P.emersonii). The plants produce one to two flowers.
Group 2 - Corypedilum and PardalopetalumThese are the large multifloral species. Members of this group range from terrestrial through epiphytic and lithophytic. Most grow in only partially shaded situations and are tolerant of higher light intensities than are the mottled leaved species: the majority occupy habitats which are exposed to wind currents and, if these habitats are elevated, to considerable drops in night time temperatures, especially during the cool season. They can tolerate an intermediate temperature, higher light and drier conditions. They prefer a cool winter.
Group 3 - CochlopetalumThese plants come from Sumatra and Java, in the monsoon belt. They are epilithic or rooted in humus in rock crannies or among exposed tree roots on forested limestone hills. These are also multifloral species but the flowers open in secession.
Group 4 - Paphiopedilum
Section PaphiopedilumThis group is more difficult to grow. They are terrestrial, epiphytic or epilithic. Although from the monsoon belt, most are cool growing, occurring at high elevations where winter temperatures drop to near freezing. They bear usually one (sometimes two) flowers and must be kept bright and cool.
Group 5 - Barbata
Section BarbataThis species is terrestrial (violascens occasionally epiphytic and barbatum occasionally epilithic) usually rooted in leaf litter or humus in shaded forest habitats. This is mostly a warm growing species in various parts of the monsoon belt. They have tessellated leaves with one,or at most two, flowers. This species prefers less light and monsoon conditions.