Catasetinae General Observations and Discussions
A collection of notes based on my experience of growing various Catasetinaes. This is a random collection of notes regarding my observation of one particular Catasetinae which in turn can be applied to any Catasetinae. In place of repeating these observation notes on each individual page, I have gathered them here and as needed, refer to them on each individual page.
Eventually a pattern of topics and sub-topics will be developed. In the meantime, one needs to scroll through and manually review this area for item(s) of interest.
Maintaining the backbulb
The previous year's backbulb for some (most, all?) Catasetinaes is the source for spikes and their blooms(?). I can only base this on the fact that of the 11 individual Catasetinaes that I have (1 in critical condition and may be a lost cause, a pair of divisions from a gifted Catasetinae, and 9 acquired from Sunset Valley Orchids), 2 Catasetinaes are showing signs of developing a spike (or keiki?). New growth that many others are showing signs of originate from the base of last year's bulb. Spike (or keikis) swell and pop from underneath where a leaf had formed on last year's bulb.
This is where a picture really is worth a thousand words.
Click the above images to reveal original sized image in new tab. These images are a result of a google search looking for some examples of the following discussions. (Source: Orchids for Dummies by Steven A. Frowine and The National Gardening Association. March 2005)
Two bulbs, one has "old scruff" (remnants of past leaves) and the other cleaned to reveal the "rings" that is the actual base of a leaf as it extends from the bulb. Spikes (or in rare cases to be further discussed - keikis) swell and pop from this base ring on the bulb. This image shows on the smaller bulb what may have been swelling to possibly form a spike and near the base possibly a new growth popping and starting to form. The swelling kind of resembles a fingernail.
Popping spikes are much more obvious and notice the bulbs are free of scruff from previous leaves.
Catasetinaes do not have to be in their growth stage (leaves present) to bloom. I am still new to growing these gems so I was surprised to observe this in person. They are in growth stage mid-spring to late fall. Once the leaf tips turn yellow in the late fall, the leaves have completed thier function, die back and eventually fall off the newest bulb. This would occur late fall. Blooms, might start showing late summer / early fall and form and open after th leaves fall. I am noticing spikes form on last year's bulb before new growth appears. This might be a pattern specific to Catasetinaes with specific species ancestry. It could be a result of a unusual tepid winter with more sun than clouds. Two years from now, after I complete 2 growth year cycles, I be in a position to declare this more boldly. I have only just begun dabbling in Cataseinae culture - so I am learning as a grow.
Cleaning the backbulb (optional):
I look at the backbulb and I see green and green is indicative of an area of a plant to conduct photosynthesis. Perhaps a boost in photosynthesis result in better blooms per spike?
You may notice the old "onion skin" scruff flaking off the bulb. I use a "soft-bristle" tooth brush in "up and down" motion to encourage and perhaps remove that scruff. I am not concerned with cleaning the bulb in a single treatment. Removing scruff that is ready to be removed is the goal and that loosen up remaining scruff that will eventually be removed or fall off on it's own. Do not brush up and down the entire length of the bulb, focus between leaf bases. The last thing you would like to do is remove an eye that could form future spikes (or a keiki that could form a new division other than the standard practice).
New growth, Spike or Keiki?
It is my understanding that when particular orchids are in a stage of distress, the forming of a keiki is an alternative means to perpetuating the orchid as a back-up to the standard means of pollination. I set aside an old growth of a Dendrobium in hopes maybe an undiscovered eye be inspired to form new growth. Instead, it developed 2 keikis (happy dance), but I lost them both by accident (sad dance). Catasetinaes can form keikis where a spike would develop (base of an old leaf). This base appears as a ring around the bulb. The exact area the keiki form is under the center stem from a leaf long gone. This is the exact same area that a spike would form. New growth, pops from the base of the bulb.
Treat the keiki as you would any other keiki. Let it develop, first would be a small swelling bulb eventually topped with leaflets, and then last to form be the roots. Once the roots are about 3 inches in length, carefully remove the keiki and pot into damp moss and keep an eye on it. Treat as you would a very young orchid, the medium be moist but not soaked and bright ambient light, but limited direct sun light. This plantlet be very similar as if it was just removed from a flask. Instead of forcing dormancy, watch and observe during the winter keeping it safe from harmful cold temperatures and the moss stay moist, but not damp / soaked. Fred Clarke suggests a process when removing Catasetinaes that they be potted in a small pot carefully wrapping the roots in moss and placing the plant and moss ball onto styrafoam, add moss as needed, but not compressed. If all goes well, the plantlet will form the familiar bulb, then start a new growth. This new growth should double if not more in size. If all goes well, you can have a complete division of the parent that blooms for the first time in about 2 or 3 years.
When leaf tips start turning yellow and become "crispy" to the touch, the Catasetinae is transitioning into dormancy. Eventually the leaf will shrivel and fall off on its own. Some actually force dormancy by cuting the leafs off.
Stop all watering at this time. The roots can still draw water from the moist moss but even this process will come to an end. The bulb will "harden off" to endure a cold, cloudy, winter.
This process might start in late fall. Once the moss has dried you can start the process of winter storage. Some would cut the roots away maybe leaving an inch to help anchor when re-potted in the spring. I store my dormant bulbs in a 2-liter plastic soda bottle home-made terrarium. I cut the bottom off of two bottles. Invert one bottom into another, then add a small amount of water to provide humidity, set the bublb on the inverted bottom of one bottle above and not in contact with the water reserve and then place the top 1/3 of a bottle creating a terrarium environment. During the winter I set the terrarium in a place in my growing area that gets light, but not direct sunlight. I keep an eye on the bulb and hopefully spot new growth developing in late February or early March. The cap of the bottle is never included to allow for air exchange.
Once the roots are about 2 inches in length and by now the new growth is a small version of itself, potting can take place.
I pot in moss using semi-hydroponics. Instead of drainage holes on the bottom they are about an inch up from the bottom. This establishes a resevoir of water that the moss will draw up and keep evenly moist during the full blast rowth stage ensuring a nice healthy bulb. At first water be done sparingly and the pot tipped so it can drain. (I live in the Sacramento area so summer temperatures can be around 100-degrees if not more during the day and sometimes their is no significant drop at night. Humidity is also barely in the double digits so everything is grown in a mini-greenhouse.) Approximatel after a month of being in it's summer pot, I will water with diluted fertilizer(s). As of this writing I am thinking ahead of how I will handle penulous Catasetinae. Perhaps when they are in spike and buds actually forming I will raise them on inverted stands in the mini-greenhouse. Once in bloom, I will situate the pots in a hanging system yet to be created so that I can admire my gems for the weeks they are in bloom. Most of this has yet to be worked out and finalized. Something I need to consider is preventing or eliminating "bud blast" (resulting from drastic change in temperature or humidity or combination of both).
I suppose if you have a collection of Catasetinaes, you could use a typical fish tank, just remember that the local environment you want to achieve is high humidity, without the bulbs coming into contact with the humidity source. Done the right way, you could probably store an entire collection of bulbs and their accompanying tags in a single fish tank. If I was to come across a tank being discarded, I wouldn't think twice about not acquiring it.
For now I use a pair of 2-liter clear soda bottles to create a terrarium for one bulb collection to be stored during its dormancy.
I cut one bottle a third of the way up from the bottom, slit the sides so I can fit the two pieces back together. I cut the bottom off another bottle and use that as a divider keeping the dormant bulbs completely up and out of any water reservoir. Slip everything back together and store the bottle in an area not directly exposed to direct sunlight. The cap is removed and trashed to allow for the exchange of air.
The accompanying images should be self-explanatory:
I'm proud to be thrifty. I have watched a number of videos about orchids in semi-hydroponics using exquisite glass pottery with drilled holes. My first reaction is that each of those pots are expensive. They are also heavy. I have looked at all kinds of containers that would serve perfectly as a s/h pot but also needed a means to maintain financial investment to as low as possible. If the pots are the same size, I could then in turn make efficient use of limited space. I settled on the typical liquid, 4-cup food container from Glad that is most likely found in any grocery store. Being semi-transparent, I can quickly glance the water level of the resevoir and the roots be exposed to the sun's light for extra photosynthesis of the tips. They are easy to grip and carry.
Most often I use a soldiering iron to "poke" a holes about an inch from the bottom. This establishes the water reservoir. 2 holes on opposite sides. For Catasetinaes, Moss as a medium wicks the moisture from the reservoir to the top keeping the entire root zone moist. The common clay pelets can be used for other orchids. I have ot ried using the pellets for Catasetinaes, or even a mixture of the two mediums, but in the future might be worth experimenting with.
The accompanying images should be self-explanatory:
Late July, 2019
Vertical over Horizontal Growth
Obviously vertical orchids take up less space than an orchid growing horizontal. In the image to the left I have 2 Catasetinae and it is very clear which is growing in the preferred vertical then the one on the right (as well as a peek at others) growing horizontal. If I was growing in a spacious green house and these were in hanging baskets it probably not be an issue, but I am growing on shelves with limited space, or at least I was until they became too big that getting them in and out of the shelf system was becoming a risk, so they are growing on the balcony floor.
If my growing area received direct light throughout the day this probably not be an issue. This is not the case. My growing area gets direct light from mid-day to sunset, not included shade thrown by trees (sigh, apartment life).
As the new growth was leafing out, I made sure it faced in the direction of the light source. This probably caused the extreme horizontal growth. Next year I will make sure to roate the growths to hopefully induce a more vertical growth pattern and much less horizontal growth.
My concern is on 2 issues. The growth become "top-heavy" and perhaps rare - break off from the previous bulbs. That could be bad. To prevent this nightmare, I kind of tried to support the top of the new bublb by a sling.
My other concern is the as yet delevoping spike. The Catasetinae on the left I know for a fact the spike will deelop from the top of the new growth. Nothing to worry about their. Other Catasetinae develop spikes from the base of the new growth. I fear that spike getting embedded into the moss and never developing at all.
When I notice a developing spike from the base (sigh) then I have limited choices. I could try and ease the entire moss care up, set it into a waiting pot with moss on the bottom to "lift" the entire orchid so the spike can develop up and over the edge of the pot. Another option is cutting the pot to make room for the spike. I, for now, can only wait and see what happens.
This sinking of the orchid in the pot was created by the moss compacting, and I address that issue below.
Compacted Moss, How to Prevent
By mid-June, Catasetinae are water hogs. I water them just about every day to keep the moss as damp as possible and for water to be available to be absorbed by the new roots and fatten the current bulb. Come July, I have my potted Catasetinae inserted into a similar pot without drainage holes so that the moss is drenched. Before sunset, I pull the pots apart allowing the excess water to drain off.
I knew the moss only be viable for one growing season. All this water causes it to compress and decay. This compression possibly constricts the roots a little too tight and I know it is too tight for any air exchange because it is a thick mess.
In regions where many Catasetinae grow wild, to find them, look for a mature palm tree with "boots" and then listen for the subtle sound of water being sucked in slurps. (See exmple, left although missing the Catasetinae.) The Catasetinae growing season is from early spring until mid fall. Once the new growth has matured and roots are about 3-inches in length, it takes in a great deal of water to create a nice fat bulb to sustain the next years new growth.
Rainwater collects in these boots making a pool that Catasetinae thrive in. Decaying plant material, insect larvea, birds and small animals add nutrients to the standing water.
In cultivation, Moss is used to replicate this environment. When the Catasetinae is in full maximum growth phase I let the entire plant soak for the peak heat and light of the day in heavy water. Late afternoon, I remove the potted Catasetinae so that it can drain.
I did this with one Catasetinae and during one week I watched a leaf start to spread and elongate to it's full length of 6 inches and still growing. This was happening faster than other similar Catasetinae so I decided to do this with all of my Catasetinae.
Anyone that grows one or more orchids in moss know that over time the moss becomes compacted as you pour water onto it and as it expands a little due to volume of water when it is fresh. I fertilize with every watering so the salts in the fertilizer start to decay the moss. As it decays it becomes compacted.
I'm pondering several ideas to try and prevent this compacting of the moss. One idea is to use clay pellets on the bottom of the pot and then layer pellets and moss. Another possible idea is to just use the S-H clay pellets and stop buying and then tossing expensive moss.
Over the years as you cultivate a Catasetinae, the current years growth (particularly the bulb) should be larger (height and thickness) than the previous year's growth. Keep in mind the back bulbs are one and done. Their only purpose is to provide water and nutrients to the following year's new growth. Once that is complete they start to slowly shrivel. If you are timid in watering or irregular in watering when the Catasetinae is ready and waiting for excessive amounts of water, the current bulb will not exceed the previous year's growth and this could be a factor in not being able to support next year's growth, or at least require you to pay closer attention as they eye pops to become new growth and the bubls physical appearance declines faster. If you follow the rules with the new growth it should get on track during the current grow year.
As for back bulbs or dividing a Catasetinae, this is something I have not encountered as of yet and do not expect to for another year. I have a candidate for dividing and will deal with it in the winter as it goes dormant.