Amazing Minicatts

By Ronald J. Midgett, PhD


Not a new phenomenon, these colorful orchids continue to charm

Reprinted from the July 2000 issue of Orchids -- The magazine of the American Orchid Society
  While the interest in miniature cattleyas that arose some 20 years ago has blossomed into a major commercial sector, it is by no means a new area of orchid breeding. Let me take you on a trip into the past and describe - and, in some cases, show you - some of the fine minicatts that were the forerunners of today’s lovely hybrids. Some of these have survived to grace collections and shows today while others have been lost in the dark corners of greenhouses. 

We will explore the hybridizing history of four species: Sophronitis coccinea, Laelia pumila, Cattleya walkeriana and Cattleya aclandiae. In each case, they were commonly used as parents between 1860 and 1930 and then rarely used again until 1960. With the large-flowered cattleyas and laelias, the pattern of hybridizing was one of continuous use from the beginning of orchid hybridizing to the present. There are many reasons for these patterns.

Sophronitis coccinea
In the beginning, there was Sophronitis coccinea, a true-red flower, but, alas, so small. In a world where bigger was better, this diminutive plant was bred with its larger relatives to capture its color while increasing the size of the flowers. In the process of doing this, some of the first miniature cattleyas were created. The first Soph. coccinea hybrid was Sophrocattleya Batemanniana (x Cattleya intermedia) registered in 1886 by Veitch. This cross was remade much later with the aquinii form of C. intermedia and has produced flowers with stripes and splashes of pink on a white-to-pink background. Of the original cross, one plant exhibited by Baron Sir Henry J. Schroder in 1887 was given an Award of Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). 

Since that first hybrid in 1886, Soph. coccinea has been used in more than 265 registered crosses. Seventy of these crosses were registered between 1886 and 1936, but from 1937 to 1960, only five hybrids were recorded. However, more than 200 additional Soph. coccinea hybrids were registered after 1960 including the important grex Sophrocattleya Beaufort (x Cattleya luteola ‘South River’). Of the 70 Soph. coccinea hybrids produced prior to 1937, none of these was given AOS awards until the 1960s. 

One of the most notable attempts to capture the color of Soph. coccinea was the hybrid Sophrocattleya Doris made by Messrs. W. Bull and Sons in 1904 (x Cattleya dowiana). Clones of this cross were recognized in 1908 and 1910 by the RHS. According to Frank Fordyce, B.O. Bracey brought Sc. Doris to the United States sometime in the 1930s or early 1940s. However, the first AOS awards to this grex were made in 1960 to the clones ‘Gold Nugget’, HCC/AOS, and ‘Pamela’, AM/AOS. Some have considered these two plants to be divisions of the same clone. These clones were not plants from a remake, but were from Bull’s original cross of 1904.

In 1915, R.G. Thwaites and Mrs. Thwaites registered Sophrocattleya Dorea, a backcross of Cattleya dowiana with Sc. Doris. Both Sc. Doris and Sc. Dorea are true minicatts. Curiously, while Sc. Dorea ‘Low’s’ received its AM/RHS in 1921, it was not until 1965 that it was recognized by the judges of the AOS when it received an HCC.

In 1901, Mr. Edward Owen Orpet registered Sophrolaelia Orpetii (x Laelia pumila). This hybrid bears a unique place in the history of orchids in America as being the first orchid cross to be registered from this continent with Sander’s List of Orchid Hybrids and The Orchid Stud-Book. In spite of its early appearance on the orchid scene in the United States, no awards were given by the RHS or the AOS to this cross until 1977. Since then, at least 18 flower-quality awards have been granted. 

In addition to Sl. Orpetii, there were 18 other Sophrolaelia crosses made before 1935. Some of these are familiar names such as Sophrolaelia Marriotiana, Sophrolaelia Gratrixiae, Sophrolaelia Valda and Sophrolaelia Psyche. Sophrolaelia Gratrixiae (Soph. coccinea x Laelia tenebrosa) was registered in 1901 and first awarded by the AOS in 1965. These later awards were from a remake by Gavino Rotor. Likewise, Sl. Psyche (Soph. coccinea x Laelia cinnabarina), registered in 1902 by Charlesworth, was remade by Don Richardson in the late 1950s. However, the first AOS award was not given until 1968. Since then, there have been six AOS awards to this grex. Veitch and sons registered Sophrolaelia Valda (Laelia harpophylla x Soph. coccinea) in 1901. 

In the late 1950s, Don Richardson also remade Sl. Marriotiana (Laelia flava x Soph. coccinea), first registered by Marriot in 1896. While none of these was ever awarded, the flowers were quite striking with red-to-orange stripes on a bright yellow background.

In 1917, Sir George Holford made a hybrid that would become the standard against which all other red Cattleya Alliance crosses would be measured. This was Sophrolaeliocattleya Falcon (Laeliocattleya Aureole x Soph. coccinea). Holford eventually garnered an FCC/RHS on two clones, ‘Alexanderi’ and ‘Westonbirt’, in 1921 and 1922, respectively. These same two clones were eventually granted FCCs by the AOS: ‘Alexanderi’ in 1960
and 'Westonbirt in 1964. Sophrolaeliocattleya Falcon certainly qualifies for a near-miniature, if not miniature, cattleya. Until recently, no other hybrids approached this fabulous color. In the 1960s, the goal of many hybridizers was to achieve this color in a larger flower. Unfortunately, Slc. Falcon clones proved to be disappointing parents.

In reviewing the judging of Sophronitis hybrids, 1960 was a turning point. Until then, only eight clones had been awarded by the AOS. Half were hybrids of Sophrolaeliocattleya and three the progeny of Sophrolaeliocattleya Anzac. All had 5-inch or larger flowers. The remainder were in the genus Potinara (Brassavola x Cattleya x Laelia x Sophronitis), all of which had flowers 5 inches or larger. This is not surprising, because from the 1920s through the 1950s, the commercial cut-flower growers dominated orchid breeding and judging. Their interest was in large, full flowers and most had little use for the smaller-flowered species. For example, Mr. P.J. Mossman, speaking to the New Jersey Florists Club in 1920, said, "To get an ideal flower, it would be useless to take the fine form of Cattleya gigas and hybridize it with the pollen of Cattleya intermedia. If, however, Cattleya gigas be crossed with the pollen of Cattleya dowiana or Cattleya aurea, all of the described results are obtained." Hence, there was little incentive to breed or show such hybrids as Sc. Doris, Slc. Falcon, and other fine minicatts, many of which did, however, receive awards later. 

The first sign of this shift in orchidists’ interest was the awarding of Slc. Falcon, Sc. Doris and Sophrocattleya Boltonii (Cattleya percivaliana x Soph. coccinea) in 1960. Sophrocattleya Boltonii was registered in 1922 but no awards were previously granted to this grex. All of these awarded plants were from their original grexes.
In 1962, Sophrolaeliocattleya Jewel Box (Slc. Anzac x Cattleya aurantiaca) was registered and in 1964 the first two clones of this excellent cross were awarded by the AOS. While Slc. Jewel Box is not a true minicatt, it is smaller than a standard and probably fits in the category of compact cattleya. The ease with which Slc. Jewel Box is cultivated has made it one of the most commonly grown cattleya hybrids of all time. Certainly, Slc. Jewel Box paved the way for a greater acceptance of these smaller hybrids. In addition, Slc. Jewel Box is an outstanding parent. Several of the grexes from this parent have yielded awarded clones. These include such minicatt crosses as Sophrolaeliocattleya Madge Fordyce (x Sc. Doris), Sophrolaeliocattleya Mine Gold (x Laelia briegeri) and Sophrolaeliocattleya Ruth Liebman (x Soph. coccinea). 

In spite of the influence of Slc. Jewel Box, the acceptance of smaller flowers on proportionately smaller plants was not completely forthcoming. For example, Potinara Magic Lamp (Lowara Trinket x Brassolaeliocattleya Fortune), registered by Fred A. Stewart, Inc., was not well received by the orchid community. However, the cross disappeared shortly after its introduction and this line of breeding has since been forgotten. 

On the other hand, Lowara Spitfire (Trinket x Sl. Gratrixiae), registered in 1960, which produces starry, intense-red to red-orange flowers, has fared better. Some of the Low. Spitfires are being used to produce such minicatt hybrids as Lowara Fire Doll and Potinara Dear John (x Slc. Hazel Boyd). One of Low. Spitfire’s significant features that is transmitted to its progeny is fragrance, a commodity sorely lacking in many minicatts derived from Soph. coccinea. This relatively complex hybrid contains no Cattleya parents in its background.
Another forgotten and, unfortunately, little-known, minicatt hybrid of the 1960s is Sophrocattleya Happiness (Cleopatra x Petite Fleur). Howard Hill registered this cross in 1968. These plants produced 3-inch flowers on 4- to 6-inch-tall plants, with colors ranging from light pink to deep hot pink. I have not seen another cross quite like this one for producing such a range of true pinks, although Sophrocattleya Delectable (Cattleya Loddiaca x Sophronitis wittigiana) comes close. Fred A. Stewart, Inc., registered the latter in 1977.

Laelia pumila
Laelia pumila was used as a parent in 51 crosses between 1856 and 1935. Like Soph. coccinea, L. pumila was largely forgotten until the 1960s. Since then, an additional 90 crosses have been registered with L. pumila as a parent. Sixty-four of these were registered after 1985. In contrast to the experience with S. coccinea, fewer of the earlier hybrids have been saved or remade. 

However, one of the most successful early minicatt crosses was Laeliocattleya Clive (L. pumila x C. dowiana), registered by Clive Cookson in 1893. Between 1894 and 1908, this cross received four FCCs and three AMs from the RHS. This must have been an extraordinary cross to achieve so many RHS awards in so short a period. 

Although L. pumila is not as successful as Soph. coccinea in reducing the size of the plant, it does minimize the internodal distance between pseudobulbs, which produces a more compact growth habit. This trait can carry over into second- and third-generation crosses, such as Brassolaeliocattleya Canyon View (x Laeliocattleya Ovation), which is a standard-size cattleya, in most other respects.

Laelia pumila does enhance color. Its hybrids often have flowers of deep intense purple to magenta. The lip is frequently darker, such as in Laeliocattleya Mini-Purple (x Cattleya walkeriana), Sl. Orpetii and Sophrolaeliocattleya Pink Doll (x Sophrolaeliocattleya Tangerine Jewel). Finally, color in some hybrids of L. pumila appears to be sensitive to seasonal changes. Darker, more-intense colors are usually seen in summer flowerings. 

Cattleya walkeriana
Breeding with C. walkeriana again reflects the pattern seen with L. pumila and Soph. coccinea. Thirteen hybrids were registered prior to 1923 and 150 after 1960 with registrations peaking in the 1990s. Of the earlier hybrids, only two grexes received awards. One of these was a plant of Cattleya Eros (mossiae x walkeriana, Veitch and Sons, 1895), which received an AM/RHS in 1895. The other award was an AM/AOS to a clone of Cattleya Fitz Eugene Dixon (Portia x walkeriana) given in October 1932. This was the first plant to receive an AOS award. Neither of these awarded plants was given a clonal name, as was the custom at this time. While most of the early hybrids from C. walkeriana are largely obscure, many fine hybrids are seen in collections today. Currently, the most popular minicatt hybrids from C. walkeriana are Lc. Mini Purple (x L. pumila) and Sophrolaeliocattleya Mahalo Jack (x Sl. Orpetii). These crosses have garnered several AOS awards.

Cattleya walkeriana is reasonably successful in reducing plant size while maintaining large flower size. Colors vary according to the clones used. There are alba, semi alba, "blue" and purple or lavender forms of this fine species. The form of C. walkeriana tends to be full and flat, with the better varieties having nearly round petals and large sepals. The one drawback to using this species is the isthmus lip. This characteristic is difficult to overcome and is often evident in third-generation hybrids.

Cattleya aclandiae
Cattleya aclandiae has been the parent in 114 recorded crosses, with 31 registered before 1935 and 73 after 1970. As a parent, this wonderful plant will bring down plant size without sacrificing flower size, form or count, which makes it an important parent in minicatt breeding. Interesting coloration in C. aclandiae - greenish-olive background with chocolate spotting - will produce spotting in some of its hybrids, including Cattleya Brabantiae 
(x loddigesii) and Laeliocattleya Christopher Gubler (x Lc. Mem. Albert Heinecke). In other cases, when bred to a red parent, it seems to enhance the red color, as seen in Sophrolaeliocattleya Dixie Jewels (x Slc. Madge Fordyce) and Sophrolaeliocattleya Precious Stones (x Sl. Psyche).

One well-known cross, Cattleya Brabantiae yielded the first hybrid orchid to receive an award from the RHS. The award was an FCC and was received by Veitch of Veitch and Sons, one of the famous, early British orchid firms.
This cross is a favorite of orchid growers and has been remade a few times. The clone ‘Spotted Flamingo’ received an FCC/AOS when it was exhibited by Kenneth Meier. Recently, H&R Orchids has introduced a remake using C. loddigesii ‘Streeter’s Choice’, FCC/AOS. This latter grex should produce superior progeny. 

Minicatt breeding began more than 130 years ago. The first hybrid orchid to receive an award was a minicatt (Cattleya Brabantiae, FCC/RHS, in 1863) and the first orchid recognized by the AOS was at least a compact cattleya if not a minicatt (Cattleya Fitz Eugene Dixon, AM/AOS, in October 1932). While many fine hybrids were created before 1930, until 1960 little interest was shown in breeding with these smaller plants. Their prominence today is a testimony to the orchid community’s evolving changes in taste. Many of these plants are genetic treasures that should not be lost. Their genes are needed to continue the production of new and ever-more-interesting miniature cattleyas. 


Above Sophronitis coccinea, which has played an important role in the development of miniature cattleyas, requires cool growing conditions. Among the awarded clones of this species is ‘Dave’, HCC/AOS, grown by Mr. and Mrs. David F.W. Schmidt.

Below Sophronitis coccinea ‘Neon Light’, FCC/AOS, grown by Fordyce Orchids, received the 1992 AOS Masatoshi Miyamoto Award, which is given to the grower of the most outstanding member of the Cattleya Alliance. It is a tetraploid clone. Photo - Richard E. Fleig

Above Sophrolaeliocattleya Jewel Box (Slc. Anzac x C. aurantiaca) is so easy to grow that it ranks as one of the most widely cultivated cattleyas of all time. Irene Gleason, MD, grew this clone, ‘Edward D.G.’, AM/AOS.

Below Sophrolaeliocattleya Jewel Box is an excellent parent of several hybrids, including Sophrolaeliocattleya Ruth Liebman ‘Maxine’, HCC/AOS (x Slc. Jewel Box), grown by Orchid Alley, shown here.

Above Sophrolaelia Psyche ‘China’, AM/AOS, grown by Bob and Peggy Swanson, 
is a cross between Soph. coccinea and Laelia cinnabarina. This grex was registered in 1902, then remade in the late 1950s by Don Richardson.

Below Sophrolaelia Gratrixiae (Soph. coccinea x Laelia tenebrosa) did not receive its first AOS award until 1965, although it was registered in 1901. Krull-Smith Orchids grew this clone, ‘Wayne’, AM/AOS, which was awarded in 1985. Photo - Edwin S. Boyett, Jr.

Above Laeliocattleya Mini Purple ‘Full Figure’, HCC/AOS (L. pumila x C. walkeriana), grown by Fred Clarke. 
Photo - Richard Clark

Below Another variation of Lc. Mini Purple, the clone ‘Luetticke’s Whopper’, AM/AOS, grown by Luetticke’s Orchids & Lab. Photo - Richard Clark

Above Islander Delights grew this clone of Laelia pumila var. coerulea ‘Tom Nelson’, AM/AOS. Photo - Richard Clark

Below Laelia pumila ‘KG's Hot Ticket', HCC/AOS, grown by Greg Allikas and Kathy Figiel, is a good form of the lavender coloration typical for this species.
Photo - Greg Allikas

Above Cattleya walkeriana is successful in reducing plant size while maintaining large flower size, two important factors when developing new minicatts. This example,  var. delicata is a soft pink color.
Photo - Greg Allikas

Below Cattleya walkeriana crossed with Sophrolaelia Orpetii yielded Sophrolaeliocattleya Mahalo Jack ‘Twin Peaks’, HCC/AOS, grown by Islander Delights Orchids. Photo - Richard Clark

Above Cattleya aclandiae ‘Joe Elmore’, HCC/AOS, grown by Elmore Orchids. 

Below Cattleya Brabantiae 'Spotted Flamingo' (aclandiae x loddigesii), grown by Kenneth Meier.


Ronald J. Midgett, PhD, has been growing orchids for 30 years. He started in California, where he was introduced to orchids. He then moved to Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Montserrat (Leeward Islands) and finally New England, where he settled 15 years ago. Ron has been show chair for the Massachusetts Orchid Society since 1998. He is also a student judge in the AOS judging program. In addition, he and his wife, Sandy, are the proprietors of the New England Orchid Company. - 242 Pond Street, Franklin, Massachusetts 02038 (e-mail

Growing These Four Species

It would be hard to imagine four more culturally different orchids than
Sophronitis coccinea, Laelia pumila, Cattleya walkeriana and Cattleya aclandiae. While all fit generally into the definition of cattleya culture, each has a specific need or two that knowing about will help the average grower to do better with these particular plants. Thankfully, their hybrids are nowhere near as particular as the species.

C. walkeriana and C. aclandiae have thick roots that do poorly if contained in water-retentive media. These will do best if mounted on a piece of tree fern, cork or hardwood, or grown in open slatted baskets, where they will dry completely between waterings. Fairly high light and heat (into the 90s) during their growing season are recommended. Cattleya walkeriana benefits from a dry rest without nitrogen fertilizer during the winter months if it is to flower at its best.

Sophronitis coccinea and L. pumila need slightly more shade than most cattleyas and also need more-even moisture to do their best. While either of these will grow on a mount, they will only do well this way in the most humid of conditions. Both of these species respond favorably to slightly cooler (under 80 F days, 55 to 60 F nights) conditions than most cattleyas. Good-quality water, low in dissolved solids, is particularly critical for L. pumila and Soph. coccinea, neither of which will tolerate salty or otherwise stale conditions at the roots.
Wild-collected plants of all four of these species are still occasionally seen offered for sale. However, be advised that seed-grown plants are both plentiful and easier to grow. 

Ned Nash, Director of Conservation, American Orchid Society, 6000 South Olive Avenue, West Palm Beach, Florida 33405 (e-mail

Copyright 1999 American Orchid Society. All rights reserved.

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