Written by Geoff Bailey
Reproduced with permission from ‘Cymbidium Chatter’ Edition 18 – August 17 2020
What is it that hobbyists look for in today’s Cymbidiums?
Vincent van Gogh, that eccentric and somewhat tortured soul, captured nature in a very different way to his artistic counterparts of the time. And so it is with Cymbidium orchids, there are those who love the wild form of the species and Primary Hybrid Cymbidiums; and then there are those who only grow the modern day hybrids, flowers that have been manipulated by hybridisers to conform to a standard, a set of objective guidelines!
This probably sounds like a relatively negative statement and assessment of today’s hobbyists, those folk that are members of orchid clubs and societies throughout the world. However it is important not to lose sight of the beauty that exists in all flower forms, no-one demands that you grow a particular style of flower, it is left to the individual to make up their own mind.
So what is it that hobbyists look for in today’s Cymbidiums?
If you are a competitive person and like a challenge and the thrill of winning, it is clear that you must grow modern style exhibition flowers.
Hybridisers throughout the world have made huge advances and regularly produce flowers of outstanding quality. They strive to combine and produce the very best attributes in each of the crosses they make. I doubt that there is any hybridiser anywhere in the world who caters exclusively to the hobbyist market.
Sadly most orchid clubs are in a state of decline and a hybridiser would find it very difficult to make a decent living if they were to rely solely for an income from this source. Attributes to look for in exhibition style flowers include:
1) Shape and substance – the flower should exhibit superior form (circular here in Australia) and spatial arrangement. How the flowers arrange themselves on the spike is important and it is important that any would be exhibitors consider the length of the pedicel (the individual flower stem). It needs to be long and strong enough to allow the flower to display properly.
“If you truly love nature you will find beauty everywhere!” Vincent van Gogh
Substance is often misunderstood but it refers to a flower‟s ability to maintain its shape, too thin and the segments of the flower may twist and furl. Most tetraploid (4n) flowers have a heavier (thicker) substance, too thick and sometimes the dorsal sepal will not open fully and in turn it can prevent the petals from opening properly.
2) Color – this is probably the most important quality. The color or combination of colors must be bright, clear, fresh and glistening. Texture refers to the natural sheen a flower has and that which enhances the color overall.
3) Habit and arrangement – the raceme should be strong enough to support the inflorescence with minimal staking or tying. The raceme should be clear of the foliage and it should not be bent or twisted. Arching or decorative spikes are permitted. At least two thirds of the flowers should be fully open.
4) Size of flower and inflorescence – size is important, as is the number of flowers. The number of flowers should be commensurate with the maturity of the plant. Most modern day hybridisers select parent plants that should deliver all or most of the attributes listed above.
We are very spoilt here in Australia as most hybridisers produce seedling crosses that not only cater for the commercial growers (cut flower and pot plant sales) but also crosses that have the potential to take on all comers on the show bench.
Orchid clubs and societies have the responsibility to ensure that all members are catered for when preparing schedules for monthly meetings or shows. As an orchid judge travelling around the various shows it is pleasing to note that most clubs have moved with the times and changed their schedules. The growers of the more unusual Cymbidium flowers are not bound by the confines of the judging guidelines, they do however still need to produce well grown and attractive looking plants.
The lovers of Cymbidium species are an interesting group, I personally grow a number but unlike many, I am not overly concerned with having the very best form of a particular species. I am not a fan of line breeding (an attempt to produce a superior form) in Cymbidiums. I can fully understand the need for hybridisers to produce and use tetraploid forms in their hybridising programs but as far as I am concerned, I much prefer the species that most closely resemble the wild collected forms. This is my own choice and I limit the success that I will have when taking plants along to monthly meetings.
When it comes to orchid growing, I am not a very competitive person. My own personal goal is to grow each plant to its full potential, I am yet to fulfil this goal! I grow a limited number of modern day hybrids, preferring to grow those hybrids, no matter how old, that really appeal to me. As a hobbyist grower I look for plants that will extend the flowering season, a careful selection should ensure that you have a Cymbidium in flower at all times of the year. Color or color combination is important and I always look for plants that produce strong, floriferous spikes, shape is only of minor importance!
I’m sure if you were to ask a number of hobbyist growers they would all have different views as to what hobby growers look for in Cymbidium flowers. I have only had a brief look at this topic but what is very clear is that by far the largest group of growers are those who grow exhibition style flowers. It is their plants that enable us to put on shows of immense beauty, that really showcase the wonderful advancements in Cymbidium hybridising. And so it is left to the much smaller group of hobbyists to provide the plants that add some diversity and visual interest to the displays.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!” “If you truly love nature you will find beauty everywhere!” Vincent van Gogh
Special thanks to Weegie Caughlan and Joshua White, both of whom have been regular contributors to Cymbidium Chatter, for providing their viewpoints on what it is that hobbyist growers look for in Cymbidiums. Your input is greatly appreciated!
From Weegie Caughlan: “I feel that most novice and intermediate hobby growers are looking for easy to bloom plants with lots of flowers. Dark saturated colors are often preferred but a plethora of flowers is paramount. Form is unimportant. Pendent interest is decreasing but the spidery look is still going strong. Most advanced growers want form added to the primary mix with color. However, some go into specific areas as the Jensoa species or specific genetic lines with primary hybridizing crosses.”
From Joshua White: “You mentioned in the latest Cymbidium Chatter that you’re planning to write an article on what hobbyists/ enthusiasts are looking for in the Cyms they choose to grow and wanted some input. Here are a few of my thoughts. There are a number of factors that determine whether I choose to grow a particular Cym. My personal tastes are for the species, primary hybrids and early hybrids, particularly the more rectangular/wide blooms found in species like lowianum, insigne, tracyanum, etc. Probably the type I like least are the overly cupped round flowers that seem most common in minis. Other factors like floriferousness, longevity, bloom time and re-bloom are quite important to me as well. Once you move away from the species and primaries, I like to have plants that will give me a long blooming period and can bloom more than once from the same bulb (ironically, very few species or primaries exhibit multiple spiking or rebloom!). I do not subscribe to the focus on the traditional Cym flowering season; if I can have something in bloom through most of the year, particularly in the styles and colours I like, then I will happily do so. Another factor is colour; I may have multiple plants in a similar style or colour because they flower at different times. I will sometimes compromise on one or more traits because the plant has something valuable to me that I want to use in a cross. Likewise, I generally try to avoid adding triploids to my collection unless I really like them as is due to their poor fertility and potential to produce aneuploid offspring. Most of the time my hybridising plans are driven either by curiosity (primaries or F2s that aren’t registered, for example) or by my goal for hybrids that meet the aforementioned criteria (floriferousness, longevity of bloom, etc.) but keep the charm of the species and primaries they are related to.”