Harlequin Phalaenopsis, by Peter White

Peter started by explaining that the term harlequin applies to any flowers with colour breaks. Flowers described as ‘picotee’ type (coloured edges) are still harlequins, although the typical flower is blotchy or spotty. These originated in Taiwan back in the 70s. Generally they tend to grow fewer roots than plain coloured types, so watering needs to be more carefully considered – less so, but higher humidity is helpful. They can however grow with none or very few roots by absorbing moisture through the leaves. A very open mix is required, and a heavier feeding regime is required, although of a balanced 20-20-20 ratio. They also need warmer temperatures, so are a bit harder to grow in the UK. Most plants arrive in Europe in the typical flexible thin plastic pot stuffed with moss, and they are best repotted into bark ASAP – even if in flower – to prevent waterlogging.

Virtually all Phalaenopsis breeding is now carried out in Taiwan, with little activity in Holland, although the trade thrives on imported plants being grown on. The Dutch expect to sell around 20m plants each year throughout Europe. There are literally hundreds of nurseries in Taiwan, but there are only a handful of genuine growers who can make the pioneering crosses. Most of the other nurseries are middlemen who either grow on plants, or concentrate on meristemming the better plants. Some have been using tissue culture without checking for viruses, although they are now having to clean up their act as the Dutch just won’t buy anything without the provenance. Phals tend to suffer from a couple of viruses – Cymbidium Mosaic virus, and Odm. ringspot, where small spots on the leaf cells collapse and grow bigger leaving growing black spots. This is a transmittable disease. In both cases, the bin or incineration should be quickly sought. Another problem can occur after having the plant for several months (even over a year), and this is Mesophyllis which is also due to cell collapse, but this time from stress. It primarily occurs from the plant being raised very warm, transported in very cold aeroplane holds, then warm in Holland (85F for 6 months), transported to UK garden centres/stores, and eventually to the customer (us!) Draft and being close to radiators will exacerbate the condition. This occurs on the older leaves, and the plant will eventually grow out of it, but take a couple of years to look clean. To avoid viruses, the Dutch often use plant pot extensions to keep the plants from touching, as well as being able to get more plants on a bench. Problems such as split leaves are generally due to a lack of light, and brown roots (rather than silver) are due to dryness as well.

The famous (or is it really infamous) Phal. Golden Peoker is in the background of many harlequins – see back cover. This is an unstable plant due to having extra chromosomes (an odd number), and it can vary in colour and shape from year to year, and meristems of the progeny can be totally different from the original plant. Plants such as Dtps. Newberry Parfait (a picotee type) has an even number of chromosomes, so is stable through tissue culture. The harlequin types usually have either lueddemanniana (barred), amboinensis (barred), or gigantea (spotted) in their backgrounds which provide the colour breaks. Golden Peoker has a high percentage of all 3, which perhaps creates the issues. Many of the other harlequins have far smaller percentages of 2 of the 3.

Golden Peoker has a poor lip shape, and isn’t balanced in colour between the petals and sepals. It was its unusual colour mix that got the plant noticed, and used for further breeding. It is a parent of nearly 200 hybrids. One of the earliest hybrids was Dtps Everspring King (1992), of which Peter showed us several clones, most of which displayed the poor lip shape and unbalanced colour scheme. Some of these were an almost solid red with white edges, and some had more pleasant finer spots. Once popular, few of this hybrid are still around.

Dtps. Black Butterfly (1998) saw Golden Peoker crossed to a more normal pink, and an almost solid red was produced, but with white petal tips. It still has poor shape and lip.

Dtps. Minho Princess (1996) doesn’t have Golden Peoker in its background, and is more stable. It is mainly white, but with pink edges, although still unbalanced across the petals. Meristemmed plants are better quality.

Dtps. Leopard Prince (1997) also avoids Golden Peoker, and is mainly pink or white, but with more balanced spots, often in patterns. The lip and overall shape are much better. Many stable clones are available of this popular plant.

Dtps. Taida Auckland Tiger is quite different, being yellow with spots. Its pedigree is different, and clones of this are a safer bet to buy.

Further types have been introduced such as Dtps. Sogo Rose which has a high percentage of violacea. This is mainly a high gloss red, but still keeps the red triangle that violacea imparts to its hybrids. The shape is far better, being rounder, and it has a decent lip – all good qualities to use for future breeding. violacea is now being used more and more in hybridising, by selectively using the different colour forms. Red is the predominant colour, and the lower halves of the lateral sepals retain this in hybrids. Using this and equestris has produced far smaller pot plants of good shape and varying colours, with the promise of plenty more to follow. The greener violacea will often produce a flower with a pink glow and pink lip.

Almost all colour combinations of phals have been made in the past. There are a few gaps, such as yellow flowers with a white lip. These now exist in Taiwan, although they are still expensive. They will be cheaper in a couple of years. Oranges are very limited, with Brother Sara Gold about the best. This is a pink spotted yellow that creates the orange illusion, although it still has a poor lip shape. Some more orange colours (as well as speckled reds) are now coming out of China, and better colours will become available. A further large lipped type will soon be introduced – known as the ‘bigfoot’.

Despite this almost alarming talk, Peter says that the plants can be grown successfully, they just need more care, although some of the harlequins aren’t really for the amateur. Honesty isn’t a bad thing, so Peter tries to stick to the more stable plants as the marketplace still wants flowers different from the solid whites and pinks that have dominated for many years now.

Phal breeding will continue to produce desirable variations, and for members who want to know more about the genus then it is worth noting that the International Phalaenopsis Alliance is holding a seminar at this year’s Peterborough International Orchid Show in June. This American based group has only once had a meeting outside the USA, so hopefully some new breeding lines will be on display.

Following a few questions, a hearty round of applause followed this enlightening talk. Many thanks Peter. JG

Phalaenopsis Chew Ging Hoe

This plant, which is Phal borneensis x Phal Penang Jewel (2003), came from Bukit Jambul Orchid, Penang, via Michael Ooi at the International Orchid Show, Peterborough, in June 2008. Kept at a temperature of about 16-18 deg. C (58-65 deg. F) it grew quite quickly from a small seedling into a flowering-sized plant. Not only that, but a very generously flowering plant: once in flower, usually in mid-March, it will keep going for at least six months, each spike never carrying more than three open flowers at a time, but opening buds will replace those that drop off. It currently has five spikes so it usually carries 10 to 15 open flowers.

The only real problem with it is that its leaves are persistently yellowish especially the older ones which makes the plant look mal-nourished. The flowers are a similar yellow, fading almost to white as they age so the leaves nearly match them.

It doesn’t receive any special treatment – it’s watered every fourth or fifth day at this time of the year, reducing to every sixth or seventh in winter, depending on the outside weather. Sunshine raises the temperature and dries the plants out a bit faster regardless of the season. It’s watered with ordinary tap water plus at most waterings, some of Akerne’s Rain Mix. Using a conductivity meter, the concentration is kept at or below below 400 micro-seimens but if there’s been a longer than usual interval between waterings, they get plain water.

It’s not spectacular and its yellowish leaves can be a bit off-putting but it’s a neat, reliable and cheerful little plant that would probably do quite well on a windowsill. Ted Croot