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CATTLEYA maxima

Image of Cattleya maxima

Michael Charters, www.calflora.net

Family

Orchidaceae

Botanical Name

CATTLEYA maxima

Plant Common Name

Cattleya, Christmas Orchid, Corsage Orchid

Special Notice

This entry has yet to be reviewed and approved by L2G editors.

General Description

Long-lasting and exquisitely beautiful, autumn and early winter heralds the violet-tinted lavender flowers of Cattleya maxima. Sometimes called the Christmas orchid because of the timing of its flowers, this tender perennial orchid is from northwestern South America. It is epiphytic (growing on another plant) and will form a lush, dense cluster upon a tree branch, wood/wire basket or weighted pot in frost-free gardens. There are white-flowering and pale-colored forms of this species, and those that grow in the montane regions are smaller in all their parts, appreciate cooler nighttime temperatures and often have fewer but deeper colored blossoms.

One oblong, stiff, leathery light green leaf grows from the tip of each slender pseudobulb. The new growth starts in early spring and then a short dormancy occurs in early autumn. The late fall finds the plant producing three to twenty (or more) fragrant blossoms on short thick stems. Each fragrant, slender bloom is a violet-tinted lavender with a ruffled white and yellow lip. This specialized flower is pollinated by a specifically sized insect that fits inside the lip.

Grow Christmas orchid in nearly full sun (smaller mountain-native plants) to very bright partial shade (lowland-native plants). No soil can be used; rather the plant can be supported in a coarse bark or charcoal media that allows water to freely drain. Average humidity, excellent air circulation, and frequent rainfall in the warmth of spring through late summer is ideal; allow the plant to be slightly drier and receive more light in the fall and winter. Supply flushing water drenches as the flower buds develop to prolong their longevity. Leaves can scorch in hot afternoon sun, especially with low ambient humidity. Leaves also become overly yellow-green when light is too intense. Lack of sunlight may prevent flowering.

Use the cut flowers for leis, hair decals, table garnishes or floral arrangements. Consider repotting this orchid only if it is greatly rootbound, and then only after it finishes flowering and root tips begin new growth.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    12 - 9

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    10 - 15

  • Sunset Zone

    H1, H2, 22, 23, 24

  • Plant Type

    Epiphyte

  • Sun Exposure

    Partial Sun, Partial Shade

  • Height

    12"-24" / 30.5cm - 61.0cm

  • Width

    14"-24" / 35.6cm - 61.0cm

  • Bloom Time

    Late Fall, Early Winter, Winter

  • Native To

    South America

Growing Conditions

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Growth Rate

    Slow

  • Water Requirements

    Average Water

  • Habit

    Clump-Forming

  • Seasonal Interest

    Fall, Winter

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Showy

  • Flower Color

    White, Yellow, Fuchsia, Lavender

  • Flower Color Modifier

    Multi-Color

  • Fruit Color

    Light Green, Brown

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green, Light Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Green, Light Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Green, Light Green

  • Foliage Color (Winter)

    Green, Light Green, Gray Green

  • Fragrant Flowers

    Yes

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Flower Petal Number

    Single

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    No

  • Edible Fruit

    No

  • Showy Foliage

    No

  • Foliage Texture

    Coarse

  • Foliage Sheen

    Matte

  • Evergreen

    Yes

  • Showy Bark

    No

Special Characteristics

  • Usage

    Container, Feature Plant, Houseplant, Mixed Border

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    No

  • Self-Sowing

    No