Lycaste Culture

Lycaste species and hybrids are becoming popular for their large numbers of long-lasting flowers that offer a wide range of colors. Few orchids rival a well-grown flowering lycaste plant, such as Lycaste skinneri, in flower size, shape and color. The myth that lycastes are difficult to grow has been dispelled with the increased understanding of these plants' habitat and cultural requirements.

Most members of the genus share a common growth habit with large plicate leaves, clustered ovoid pseudobulbs and multiple lateral inflorescences. Mature plants of the larger members of the genus require substantial space due to leaf width and span.

Lycastes have their ancestry in the cloud forests of Central and South America. The genus of approximately three to four dozen species is distributed geographically from Mexico south to Brazil. Lycaste plants most common in cultivation belong to the Deciduosae and Macrophyllae
groups and are predominantly epiphytes and lithophytes.

The Deciduosae, which includes Lycaste aromatica, are typically found in mid-elevations where the plants experience a distinct wet/dry cycle. In winter and early spring these plants go
through a rest period. The plants are deciduous and lose their leaves, which exposes the spines at the top of their pseudobulbs. Flowers can completely encircle the growing portion of a plant. The Macrophyllae, which includes Lycaste skinneri, are found at higher elevations, typically above 5,000 feet in humid, breezy mountain forests. These plants experience a longer wet period and slightly cooler temperatures. Lycaste skinneri exhibits a wide variety of color types from true alba to semi-alba to pinks to darker lavenders. It is the foundation for most lycaste hybridization, although Lycaste macrophylla contributes red.

Culture differs somewhat between the Deciduosae and Macrophyllae groups, primarily in temperature and water requirements. Recognizing the proper culture, according to group, will make a substantial difference in a lycaste's performance. The more closely these conditions can be duplicated in the home, the yard or the greenhouse, the better these plants will grow and bloom.

TEMPERATURE AND HUMIDITY:The deciduous yellow lycastes and Lycaste macrophylla, as well as their hybrids, are warmth tolerant and will perform with temperatures into the 90 F range provided there is sufficient air circulation. Extra shading will help reduce temperatures in warm areas. Also, many of the deciduous species will tolerate cooler temperatures than the Lyc. skinneri types. Lycaste skinneri types perform best with temperatures between 60 and 80 F, though they will tolerate slightly higher or lower temperatures for short periods.

Ideal humidity is between 50 and 70 percent, with as much ventilation or air circulation as possible. Growing plants on gravel trays or misting on bright days will maintain humidity, as will grouping several plants.

WATERING AND FERTILIZING: Plants grown in sphagnum moss or a mixture of fir bark and perlite need to be kept evenly moist, not soggy, or the roots may die. When in doubt, do not water. Mature plants should approach dryness particularly from blooming time until the new growth appears; seedlings should be kept evenly moist. The deciduous group prefers to dry out more than the Lyc. skinneri types during the winter rest period. Keep water off new growths to avoid damage.

As for most orchids, high water quality with low salt and mineral content is imperative. Feed with a balanced fertilizer (20-20-20) at half strength every other watering.

LIGHT: Filtered, indirect light of approximately 1,500 foot-candles is recommended. Direct sun will burn the leaves and too little light will result in few, if any, flowers. The leaves should be bright to yellowish green. Yellow leaves indicate too much light while dark-green leaves indicate too little.

PESTS AND DISEASES: Aphids and scale are most often encountered. Individual scale may be removed with a cotton swab saturated with rubbing alcohol. Infestations require spraying both the top side and underside of leaves and new growths with Knox Out, a formulation of microencapsulated diazinon, which should be used according to manufacturer's directions.

POTTING: Potting is done annually after bloom when a plant's new growth is 3 to 6 inches tall. This is usually in the early spring to the early summer, but never during the hot summer months. Clean off the old potting mix from the roots and remove dead roots before potting in new mix. If dividing plants, keep the divisions in clumps of three to five mature pseudobulbs. Always sterilize cutting tools to prevent the spread of viruses.

Plants in sphagnum moss should be potted in net pots or plastic containers that are well aerated and drained. Those in fine fir bark and perlite may be potted in plastic pots. Select a pot size that will just accommodate the roots; do not overpot.

Providing the correct cultural needs of lycastes is certain to yield lovely flowering specimens that enhance the aesthetic value of a collection.

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