Plant Common Name
Catasetum Orchid, Orchid
This deciduous tropical orchid produces small, upside-down fragrant flowers of yellow-green in late fall or early winter. Catasetum discolor grows in a variety of inland highland environments across its native habitat, from Colombia to northeastern Brazil. It grows either as an epiphyte (grows on trees), lithophyte (grows on rocks) or as a terrestrial plant growing on sandy soils.
"Catasetum" is a Greek compound word meaning "down bristle." This orchid genus is unique in having different gendered flowers on the same plant. Male flowers have an antenna-like trigger device that snaps pollen onto the backs of visiting bees. These pollen-covered insects then find a hooded female flower and unknowingly pollinate it. Because male and female flowers look different, people may have considerable difficulty identifying plants, especially if growing conditions or gender diphasy prevents the development of both flower genders on a single plant at the same time.
Each plant forms a clump of pointed, fleshy pseudobulbs that cling to trees or rocks with their fleshy roots. In porous sandy soils, the roots splay out to anchor the plant so it remains upright. The light green, thin, soft leaves are pleated and lance-shaped. They shrivel and drop away by midwinter as the plant enters a natural winter dormancy during the tropical dry season. Flowering occurs so late that the leaves may or may not still be present: from late autumn to midwinter. An erect flower stalk rises from the pseudobulbs and carries either all male flowers or all female flowers. A plant can produce both flower types, but always on separate flower stalks. Male Catasetum flowers have longer, showier petals than the smaller, hooded female flowers. In shade a plant may only produce male flowers, whereas bright light encourages both female and male flowers. Both male and female flowers are light green to yellow-green, with blushes of rusty red.
Where hardy, this catasetum can be grown outdoors mounted on a tree trunk or in a hanging basket or slatted wood box. Those grown in the ground require sandy soil. In frostier climes it should be grown indoors in a warm greenhouse or very bright sunroom. Plant in coarse bark nuggets for orchid culture and provide full sun to very bright dappled shade. Too little light prevents good flowering. Water the orchid freely when new growth and foliage is present (mid-spring to fall). From fall to spring, water very little. Do not begin spring watering until new leaf growth reaches two inches (5 cm) long. Good air circulation with high humidity will encourage good growth. Fertilize weekly with a dilute solution of balanced fertilizer from spring to late summer. Don't be alarmed when the leaves turn yellow in fall; this is the signal dormancy has set in and to markedly reduce watering.
AHS Heat Zone
12 - 5
USDA Hardiness Zone
11 - 15
Partial Sun, Partial Shade
18"-30" / 45.7cm - 76.2cm
24"-32" / 61.0cm - 81.3cm
Fall, Late Fall, Early Winter, Winter
South America, Brazil
Container, Hanging Basket, Houseplant, Mixed Border, Tropical
Sharp or Has Thorns