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GROWING CYCNOCHES AS MOTHER NATURE WOULD

text and photographs by FRED CLARKE


Sunset Valley Orchids, 1255 Navel Place, Vista, California 92081 (email fred.clarke@att.net; website www.sunsetvalleyorchids.com)

Cycnoches is a genus of approximately 34 species native to tropical


America. The flowers are swan shaped
and cascade down on pendulous inflorescences of 730 blossoms, depending on
the species. Closely related genera include
Catasetum, Mormodes and Clowesia. Their
unique flowers, method of pollination,
growth habit and dormancy period make
these remarkable orchids and excellent
plants for the hobbyist. Cycnoches have a
well-defined growth and rest periods each
year. Understanding how the weather influences their annual growth and flowering
cycle will make you a better grower and
lead you to awe-inspiring floral displays.
One of the most interesting things about
Cycnoches is that the flowers are sexually
dimorphic. This is where a single plant
can produce flowers that are either male
or female. In my experience, flower sex is
determined by the environment. Plants that

are mature and receive the right amount


of light, moisture and fertilizer are more
likely to produce female flowers. Plants
that are small and are grown in low light
or extremely bright light are most likely
to bloom male. The reason for this may
relate to the plants resources. It takes a lot
of energy for a plant to hold and mature a
seed capsule through the dormant period of
winter, and it makes sense that the largest
plants growing in the best locations would
produce female flowers.
Cycnoches plants have adapted in
nature to growing where there is a wet
summer followed by a dry winter period.
The plants begin their growth cycle during the lengthening days of spring and are
in active growth during the wet summer
months. Flowering begins with the onset
of shortening days and diminishing rains
in the autumn. In winter, with short days,
cool nights and an end to the rains, the

28 Supplement to october 2012 orchids www.AOS.org

[1] Cycnoches Richard Brandon Nice Different (warscewiczii Jean E. Monnier).


Grower all plants: Fred Clarke/Sunset
Valley Orchids.
[2] Cycnoches Richard Brandon Sunset
Valley Orchids.
[3] Cycnoches Richard Brandon Sunset Valley Orchids, female.

plants prepare for dormancy by dropping


their foliage. This is the plants adaptation
to conserve moisture and survive until
spring. Few orchid plants go through such
a dramatic change based on strongly seasonal conditions, but once you understand
these requirements and adjust your culture
accordingly, Cycnoches will become some
of the most rewarding orchids in your
collection.
A SEASON-BY-SEASON GUIDE As
with all orchids, closely duplicating the

7
[4] Cycnoches cooperi, female.
[5] Cycnoches cooperi Sunset Valley
Orchids III, FCC/AOS.
[6] Cycnoches Chloroge Everglades
(chlorochilon loddigesii).
[7] Cycnoches Jumbo Cooper (warscewiczii
cooperi), female.

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www.AOS.orgsupplement to october 2012Orchids 29

KNOWING WHEN TO WATER CYCNOCHES

SpringDo not water when new growth


is just starting.

Late SpringContinue to withhold water when new growth


and new roots are at
this stage.

natural habitat of Cycnoches will give the


best results. Lets look at how we can learn
from nature and adapt our growing conditions to best suit the plants needs.
Spring Cycnoches begin their growth
with the lengthening days in the spring.
New growth emerges at the base of the prior
years pseudobulb (now leafless). In nature,
the development of the new growth occurs
prior to the rainy season, so the plant does
not need watering during its initial growth.
After about a month, the new growth will
put out new roots. Once these new roots
have reached a length of 35 inches (7.5
12.5 cm) it is time to begin to water and
fertilize. Let me emphasize this point: Wait
to water until the new roots are 35 inches
long. I find that waiting to water is not easy,
because, my natural instinct is to begin
watering when I see new growth. However,
I have learned through trial and error that
withholding water during this early growth
period will produce more roots, which is
vital to the success of the plant in the coming year. Cycnoches roots deteriorate during
dormancy, and in the following year they
are not as effective at taking up moisture
and nutrients. Thus, waiting to water until
the new roots are 35 inches (7.512.5 cm)
long assures that the new roots will develop
to their full potential.
Summer With the new roots sufficiently developed and irrigation and
fertilization begun, the plant enters a period
of rapid growth and development. The new
pseudobulbs grow and mature quickly; you
can almost watch the plants grow. This is
the rainy season in nature, when it is raining
almost daily, and the plants have evolved
to utilize constant moisture. In most cases,
irrigation will be needed two or three times
a week. A balanced full-strength fertilizer

SummerBegin
watering when the
new growth and
roots are 35 inches
(7.510 cm) long.

Autumn and Early Winter Yellowing leaves


indicate the first signs of dormancy. At this
time, reduce watering by 50 percent.

(1 teaspoon per gallon [5 g per 3.8 L]) is


suggested. Bright light levels at or above
those suggested for cattleyas will help to
produce strong growth and flowering.
Autumn Cycnoches will have fully
developed their pseudobulbs by now, and
this is the time when the fruits of your labor will begin to pay off as the flowering
season begins. In nature, with the onset
of shortening days in autumn and nearing
the end of the rainy season, the Cycnoches
have completed the seasons growth, and
the pseudobulbs are beginning to harden
off in preparation for dormancy. Now is
the time to reduce your irrigation to half
of what you provided in summer and stop
fertilizing. The general rule to follow is reduce watering by half and stop fertilizing by
mid-November in the northern hemisphere
(mid-May in the southern hemisphere).
Winter This is when dormancy begins
in nature. Early winter signals the end of
the rains, and the plants respond by dropping their leaves and going dormant. The
first signs of dormancy in your collection
will be the yellowing leaf tips on the lower
leaves. Shortly thereafter, the whole leaf
will yellow and drop. This leaf abscission
continues up the bulb until all are gone. By
late December, most leaves should have
yellowed or fallen off and irrigation should
be stopped. If not, dormancy should be
encouraged by withholding water.
A WORD ABOUT DORMANCY The
onset of dormancy is caused by factors
such as the maturity of the pseudobulb,
shortening day length, cooler day/night
temperatures, a reduction of rain (irrigation)
and finally no rain (no irrigation). In most
of the United States dormancy will occur
naturally. However, in warm/hot areas such
as south Texas, south Florida, Hawaii, or in

30 Supplement to october 2012 orchids www.AOS.org

DormancyDo not
water when a plant
is dormant (leafless).

the home or under lights, dormancy sometimes needs to be forced. I have found that
stopping the watering in late December,
regardless of the number of green leaves,
will help to trigger dormancy. This process
is important, because these plants need dormancy as an important part of their growth
cycle. The sooner the plants go dormant, the
sooner they will begin new growth in the
spring. We want the new growth to begin
as early as possible in the spring, to assure
a long summer growing season and give
the best flowering.
UNIQUE CHARACTERISTICS OF
CYCNOCHES It is a common occur-

rence for large Cycnoches plants with four


or five mature pseudobulbs to have the
older pseudobulbs shrivel up and die when
the new growths start. This can be alarming, but is in the nature of the plants. One
way to keep from losing the backbulbs is
to divide your plant as soon as it has four
mature pseudobulbs by making two twobulb divisions. This practice will help you
enlarge your collection or have material to
trade with your friends.
Temperature During active growth in
the summer, when you are watering and fertilizing frequently, ideal day temperatures
should be 7595 F (2435 C) with nights
of 6075 F (1624 C). In winter, during
the dry dormancy, the day temperatures
should be 6075 F (1624 C), with night
temperatures of 5565 F (1318 C).
Humidity Cycnoches growth will
benefit from year-round humidity levels
between 50 and 80 percent.
Air Movement As with many orchids,
Cycnoches benefit from abundant air movement. If you are growing in a greenhouse,
use air-circulating fans. Hanging the
plants allows for maximum air movement

10

11
[8] Cycnoches Swan Cascade Dark Swan
(cooperi Jean E. Monnier).
[9] Cycnoches Swan Cascade Sunset Valley Orchids, AM/AOS.
[10] Cycnoches Kevin Clarke Gold Spots
(warscewiczii herrenhusanum).
[11] Cycnoches Martha Clarke Sunset Valley Orchids, AM/AOS (herrenhusanum
barthorianum).
[12] Cycnodes (Cyc. warscwiczii Morm.
hookeri Sunset Valley Orchids).
[13] Cycnoches chlorochilon Sunset Valley
Orchids.

12

13
www.AOS.orgsupplement to october 2012Orchids 31

2012 Supplemental
Issue Donors
Sustaining Donations
19th World Orchid
Conference, Inc.
The Joint Presidents
Council to honor
Rita Cohen

14

around them and often they do best when


hanging.
Light Cycnoches do best with light
levels comparable to those suggested
for cattleyas at about 2,5004,000 footcandles. In many parts of the United States,
Cycnoches grow well outside in the summer
months under 60 percent shade cloth.
Fertilizer When in active growth,
use 1 teaspoon of your favorite fertilizer
per gallon of water (5 g per 3.8 L) at each
watering.
Potting Mix For seedlings and mature
plants use up to a 5-inch (12.5-cm) pot. I
like to use New Zealand sphagnum moss
with the bottom 1/3 of the pot filled with
styrofoam peanuts.
Containers prefer to grow in plastic
pots; however, clay pots and baskets work
as well. Cycnoches should not be overpotted, and it is important to select a pot size
that will allow for no more than two years
of growth.
Repotting and Dividing This is best
done as the new growth is just starting to
develop and before the new roots start to
show. Even though you have repotted, re-

[14] Cycnoches warscewiczii.

member not to water until the roots are well


established, and 35 inches (7.512.5 cm)
long. Unlike most orchid plants, Cycnoches
do well when divided into pieces consisting
of two pseudobulbs. Divisions are made by
cutting with a sterile tool or by pulling the
pseudobulbs apart.
Virus Cycnoches can become infected
with the common orchid plant viruses. As a
precaution, I treat every plant carefully to
avoid the spread of viruses. When repotting, use disposable gloves that you change
between plants, sterilize all cutting tools,
use new or sterilized pots, and use a fresh
sheet of newsprint under every plant you
are repotting.
Insect Pests Spider mites appear to
be attracted to the soft leaves of Cycnoches.
Spider mites are quite small and seeing
them may require a magnifying glass. They
live and feed on the chlorophyll in the cells
on the undersides of the leaves. Check for
them as the new growths are leafing out,
and control them with a recommended
miticide before they cause damage.

meet the authoR fred clarke


Fred Clarke owns and operates Sunset Valley Orchids, which is
dedicated to developing hybrids and producing select species for
the orchid enthusiast. He has been growing orchids for 35 years and
hybridizing for 30 of those years. He is a passionate orchid grower
whose curiosity in orchids is broad and varied. Most recently, he
produced the grex, Fredclarkeara After Dark (Mo. Painted Desert
Ctsm. Donna Wise), which produced the blackest flower ever
witnessed. This grex has received eight First Class Certificates,
eight Awards of Merit and the coveted Award of Distinction on the
first flowers shown for judging.
32 Supplement to october 2012 orchids www.AOS.org

Donors to the
Cycnoches
Supplement
Mark Abushady
Richard Amos
Grace Arbuckle
Karen Armstrong
Carl Arnheiter
Thomas Asbach
Edward Baenzinger
Flavio Balestrin
Sue Bottom
Connie Barton
Bridget Binko
Joseph Bova
Tim Brooks
Wolfgang Bull
David Campen
Linda Chen
Rosemary Chenery
Mark Cohen
Stephen Colston
Walter Crawford
Linda Curle
Anik Delage Leduc
Cathy Eignus
Laun Elkin
John Elwood
Mario and Conni
Ferrusi
Carlos Fighetti
Folio Communications
Lynn Fuller
Dr. Harry Gallis
Wade Gardner
Great Lakes Judging
Center
Gregory Griffis
Elona Hartjes
Jim Heilig
Carl Holloway
David Horak
Diane Hysert

Eva Janovska
Russ Keith
Chaunie Langland
Amanda Lavalle
Timothy Legant
Kenneth Lister
Nicole Lavoie
Linda Lowe
Douglas Mallory
Charles Mann
Donald Maples
Robert Marrese
Michael Mason
Chryss Mavrides
Scott May
Joyce Medcalf
Bill Meyer
Mid-Atlantic Judging
Center
Alvin Moore
Lakshi Narayana
Laura Newton
David Nickerson
Barbara Noe
Pacific Orchid Society
of Hawaii
Edgardo Pauneto
Patricia Perlstein
Robert Pettibone
Andreas Pratter
Oscar Sanchez Gomez
Robert Scully Jr.
Alexandra Shepherd
Shining Sea
Investments
Michael Sielaff
Frank and Taylor
Slaughter
William Suddaby
Sunset Valley Orchids
Tomasz Szewerniak
Peggy Tan
Max Thompson and
Bryon Rinke
Barbara Ungersma
Juan Valdez Juarez
Barbara Van der Stoep
Peter Volkmar
Hung Yu Wang
David Waller

GIVING THANKS
The American Orchid Society would
like to thank the donors whose generosity made publication of this supplement
possible.
The authors willingness to share their
expertise is greatly appreciated as is the
photographers who kindly allowed their
work to be printed in this supplement as
well as the growers whose flowers and
specimens are showcased are equally
valued. Wes Higgins, PhD, a member of
the Societys Publications Committee,
assisted with proofreading as did Arlene
Maguire, also a member of the Publications Committee. John Wrench, advertising manager, aided in the scanning and
detailed preparation of images. Editor.