Orchid of the Month for March, 2018
By Srini Varadhan
I have always had a penchant for the hard and uncommon when it comes to orchid culture and prefer species. During a visit to California Orchids in Bolinas, I stumbled across an +interesting orchid, Coelia bella. In my limited experience with orchids, I had never heard of this genus. I liked the grass-like foliage but was particularly intrigued by the curious shape of the pseudobulbs, ovoid (almost egg shaped) and very light green in color. Photos of the uniquely patterned flowers on the Internet Orchid Species Photo Encyclopedia (IOSPE) website pushed me over the edge and I bought the plant.
Formerly known as Bothriochilus bellus, this species is native to Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and Costa Rica. According to the IOSPE, the plant is generally found as a terrestrial and is occasionally epiphytic growing in intermediate conditions at elevations ranging from 1,500 feet to 4,000 feet in tropical forests. Being rather uncommon in cultivation, notes on culture are not readily available for this species. Limited literature available on the internet suggests that the plant prefers medium light (a bit brighter than Phalaenopsis).
When I bought the plant, it was already outgrowing its pot and the existing medium was breaking down. So, I repotted it in a plastic pot containing a coarse well-draining mix consisting of approximately 2 parts bark, 2 parts pumice, 1 part ground cork bark and 1 part charcoal. This is in part because the roots are relatively fine resembling Paphiopedilum and Phragmipedium roots. This is a medium sized plant and can grow to between 12 and 20 inches tall, therefore, I grow it in my greenhouse, in a well-shaded location with substantial air movement. My misting is relatively “heavy-handed” so I tend to water most of my orchids that way. Located very close to a misting nozzle, the plant is well watered during the hot summer months. As is the case with most of my other orchids, my fertilizer regimen consists of about ¼ strength balanced 20-20-20 fertilizer containing all the micronutrients with a pinch of Epsom Salt in a gallon of reverse osmosis (RO) water on a weekly basis in late spring and summer, during the active growth phase. With the onset of Fall, dormancy sets in and the plant starts to slow down. Around this time, I reduce watering and fertilizer and completely stop watering and fertilizing around mid-December. Depending on weather though (it has been highly variable this winter), I would mist the plant occasionally to prevent it from drying out completely. In late December the inflorescences begin to arise from the base of the new pseudobulbs with the inflorescence developing over the next 2 months. My plant has about 3 to 5 flowers per inflorescence, but this can vary depending on culture. The flowers possess a very interesting color combination, white sepals gradually transitioning to a bright pink and a prominent neon greenish-yellow lip. The flowers appear to have a faint odor or almond cookies, though it can be interpreted any other way.
As always, we must adjust all cultural advice we get from any growers, including me, to account for our conditions. Overall, it appears to be relatively easy to care for and a must have in a collection.
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