Plant Common Name
Orchid, Pale Laelia
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Long-lasting and usually pale pink, the autumnal blooms of Laelia rubescens, pale laelia, are borne atop upright slender stems. Hailing from the cooler, winter deciduous forests of Mexico to western Panama, this clumping tender evergreen orchid needs cool winter temperatures during its dormancy. It is an epiphyte (living on another plant). Because of its need for winter chill, it is a popular companion for Cymbidium orchids, which have a similiar need.
The egg-like, wrinkly, compresseed pseudobulbs of pale laelia have papery sheaths and bear one long leaf that is leathery and medium green. Actively in growth (both leaf and root) from spring through autumn, the clumping plant sends up tall, thin stems in autumn that are topped with a few flower buds. Each opens to a star-like flower with wavy edges that is pale to rosy pink, with the lip's throat slightly darker. These blossoms are long-lasting. After or during the flowering wane, the plant slides into a cool winter dormancy.
Grow Laelia rubescens in full sun to very bright dappled shade. It does not grow in soil; place in a heavy pot with coarse bark that drains water efficiently or mount upon an exposed tree or palm trunk or hanging slab of cork bark. Water it frequently in the warmth from spring to fall, allow to become much drier in winter when it should be exposed to cool temps, it's tolerant down to the freezing point. Higher humidity and good air circulation are important when it is in active growth, but this species is tolerant of more arid conditions than others. When very hot in summer, increase shading and humidity for certain. Consider repotting this orchid only after it is overly rambling over the pot edges or the bark is degraded and fine, and then only after flowering is done and just prior to new root growth begins in mid-spring.
The flowers can be cut and used as a table decoration, leis, hair decals. If grown as a houseplant, it needs very bright light and is well suited to a cool sunroom in winter. It will, in time, become a specimen plant which will display many more stems topped with fragrant starry flowers. Overall it is a very tolerant orchid of a wide range of temperatures and lower household humidity, which makes it popular among a wide array of plant enthusiasts.
Natural variation in flowers occurs in this species. A white flowering variety with a yellow throat is alba, light yellow flowers with a deeper yellow throat is aurea (which some botanists distinguish as a separate species), and variety semi-alba has pale flowers with a deeply colored lip.