Cattleyas hold a special place in the hearts of us all. Even aficionados of odd genera like Bulbophyllum (and heaven forbid, Maxillaria) occasionally regress to embrace big, gaudy, effervescent cattleyas! Several plants of one popular cattleya, Cattleya patinii Cogn., flower at Selby Gardens in October and November—not big; less than four inches across, yet a pretty lavender, and possibly effervescent.
Although small flowered, large and well-grown plants are especially decorative when sporting several neat clusters of a dozen flowers each. A pair of leathery elliptic leaves tops club-shaped pseudobulbs with apical inflorescence holding well-displayed flowers. Flower color is rather uniform—a medium lavender with darker lavender flare to the lip and dark purple throat. The flowers span to about 8 cm across with sepals to 5.5 x 1.7 cm and petals to 5.5 x 3.2 cm. The lip is rolled around the column with apex flared to 3 cm broad with shallow notch in front. Flowers are perfect miniature labiate-type cattleyas. Line-bred selections such as those exhibited at Selby Gardens have greatly improved flower shape and size compared to those of wild collected plants.
To maximize its growing potential clews from the habitat are helpful. Cattleya patiniigrows epiphytically on tree branches or on cliffs mostly below 500 m elevation from Costa Rica to northern South America east to Trinidad in areas that remain annually dry for several months. North of Costa Rica it has been confused with Cattleya guatemalensis, a natural hybrid between C. skinneri and C. aurantiaca. Lack of plants with the unique fall flowering period has failed to confirm its occurrence in Guatemala as rumored. Most Central American plants of Cattleya patinii produce capsules without pollinators shortening the life of the flowers and causing numerous capsules to form. It is unclear if the cause is self pollination or some other vegetative process as with many composites, but outcrossing clones are the most decorative.
Nomenclatural history of this species is complex with several name changes occurring within the last 40 years. Cattleya patinii was once known in horticulture as a variety under the name Cattleya skinneri Batem. var. autumnalis P.H. Allen (1) when it was believed to be a mere fall flowering variety of C. skinneri that flowers in the early spring. There have also been permutations as C. skinneri var. deckeri (Klotzsch) A.D. Hawkes (2), and C. skinneri var. patinii (Cogn.) Schltr. (3). But its distinct lip color, lower elevation preference, flowering time, and sympatric distribution without intermediates required recognition as a species distinct from C. skinneri. As a species, the name Cattleya deckeri described from plants originating in Mexico became accepted for the fall flowering species based on the recommendation of A. D. Hawkes. But R. L. Dressler (personal communication) showed that our species is absent from Mexico, and could therefore not be C. deckeri (Cattleya ´guatemalensis). The next and apparently only other available name is Cattleya patinii Cogn. described from Colombian plants. This name should remain permanent, unless an earlier synonym is discovered, or DNA studies force yet another name to remember!
Native to the hot, lowland, seasonally-dry tropics, Cattleya patinii is an ideal subject for the South when grown in smallish pots in an open mix. Light should always be bright, and watering should be reduced after flowering. It is a particularly good survivor of neglect in winter when protected from frost. No matter what the name, Cattleya patinii is well worth a space on the bench, especially for the minimum effort required growing it.
1. Ann. Missouri Bot. Gard. 29:345, 1942.
2. Orchid Rev. 74:361-363, 1966.
3. Die Orchideen 227, 1914.