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Cattleya orchids as a gift? Yes, even without a greenhouse.

Cattleya orchids as a gift? Yes, even without a greenhouse

In bloom or in bud, a cattleya orchid plant will please any flower fancier. But does it require too much care to be a sensible Christmas gift? We think not. Even without a greenhouse, careful gardeners can grow cattleyas and get them to bloom--if they give them the proper exposure and the right care.

This means adequate heat, moisture, and fertilizer--and, above all, adequate light. Cattleyas, the showiest of orchids, can live and grow in reduced light but cannot bloom without good light.

The large-flowered cattleya shown above thrives in strong light from a south window filtered through a sheer curtain, and the sheath you see growing out of its lead (the newest leaf and its thickened stem) promises more flowers to come. An aluminum cooky sheet covered with wet gravel maintains humidity around the plant. The owner grows it in coarse fir bark, waters it weekly, gives it a dilute application of liquid fertilizer every other week, and keeps the gravel moist.

Although such treatment works well in sunny climates, it is not likely to work in California's fog belt or in cloudy regions of the Northwest. There the cattleya would probably need additional light. A bright bathroom or kitchen with supplementary light from fluorescent tubes should give the plant adequate light and humidity. In the brightest, hottest regions, place the orchid farther from the window to avoid leaf burn.

A healthy plant will have a slight yellow cast to its green; extremely dark green leaves mean the light is insufficient.

If you can't find orchids locally, you can order by mail from one of the following sources; catalogs, which fully explain delivery conditions, are free unless noted. Beall Orchid Co., 3400 Academy Dr. S.E., Auburn, Wash. 98002. Rod McLellan Co., 1450 El Camino Real, South San Francisco 94080 (catalog $1). Santa Barbara Orchid Estate, 1250 Orchid Dr., Santa Barbara 93111. Stewart's Orchids, 1212 E. Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel, Calif. 91778.

Photo: December 1. "Misty Lime' cattleya arrived in box; bud was supported by stake, coddled in shredded paper

Photo: December 30. First bud opened just after Christmas. Fragrant chartreuse flowers reached 6-inch width

Photo: October. Set on damp gravel in window screened by sheer curtain, plant produces new lead (left) enclosing flower bud sheath
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Date:Dec 1, 1987
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