Cattleya orchids: exotic species and hybrids!

Cattleya species and hybrids

Cattleya is among the most popular and outstanding genus in the Orchid family (Orchidaceae), particularly noted and valued for their large gorgeous flowers with large captivating labellum in a multitude of showy colours and patterns!

Cattleya hybrid: Blc Ablaze Medal 'U Emperor' at our backyard, November 2007Countless spectacular Cattleya hybrids have emerged over the last several decades, due to extensive hybridizing of Cattleya species within its genus and more remarkable are the hybrids formed with other related genera, such as Brassavola, Laelia and Sophronitis, producing breathtaking results!

This Brassolaeliocattleya (Blc.) hybrid pictured on the right with a pretty name, Blc. Ablaze Medal ‘U Emperor’ (parentage: Blc. Toshie Aoki x Blc. Gold of Tainan) is one such astounding beauty!

A large and brilliant golden-yellow Cattleya hybrid with lovely contrasting dark-red frilly lip that rewarded us big time in November 2007 after four years of tender loving care and it took me almost as long to showcase its beauty here….tit for tat, huh!

Not really, just that when I googled for its ID then, the search results had me more confounded than ever about the genus Cattleya, its species and hybrids. Haha, I felt intimidated…too much botanic knowledge for an ordinary gardener to comprehend and hence the procrastination until now!

Whatever, it’s about time to take the challenge to include the magnificent Cattleya orchids into our tropical plant database lest its beauty disappears from oblivion.

Plant Profile, Culture and Propagation :

  • Botanical Name: Cattleya (the genus name and to be followed by the species name or the hybrid name as accorded)
  • Common Name: Cattleya, Cattleya Orchid, Corsage Orchid, Queen of Flowers (and other common names as assigned to species and hybrids eg. Ruby-lipped/Crimson Cattleya for the species, Cattleya labiata)
  • Family name: Orchidaceae
  • Etymology: The genus, Cattleya, was named by John Lindley after Sir William Cattley in 1824. The latter, a prominent British horticulturist, successfully cultivated specimens of Cattleya labiata that were used as packing material in a shipment of other orchids.
  • Origin: Native to regions from Costa Rica to tropical South America
  • Plant type: Perennial ornamental orchid plant, cultivated worldwide
  • Features: Cattleya amethystoglossa (Amethyst-lipped Cattleya), flowering in a friend's gardenCattleya is a genus of 113 species of orchids that are endemic to the rain forests of Central and South America. These epiphytic orchids that grow naturally on trees in the wild are Cattleya species, rarely available at garden centers that would rather sell the exotic hybrids.
    A highly versatile genus, Cattleya is the most hybridized of all orchids and has greatly expanded to include numerous hybrids crossed naturally between species within the genus, and more astounding are the strikingly beautiful artificial hybrids that were crossed with other related genera and extensively developed over a century, with registered ones numbering into many thousands and still counting.
    Our garden's unifoliate Cattleya hybrid with one leaf per pseudobulbAs sympodial orchids, Cattleyas grow from underground rhizomes that produce ascendent flattened or roundish stems known as pseudobulbs to store water, and stems may be jointed, stout or spindly. Extending at the apex of each pseudobulb is a rigid, flat, leathery and elongate leaf (may be one, two or more in number, depending on the species or hybrid) that is apple-green or yellowish-green in colour.
    Hence, Cattleya species and hybrids can be classified into 2 groups, namely:
    a) unifoliate, with a single leaf per pseudobulb
    b) bifoliate, with two or more leaves per pseudobulb.
    Cattleya orchid plants can be dwarfish, mini and compact or grow up to 45 cm or more. Some are slow-growing while others may have a moderate to vigorous growth habit.
    Blc. Yen 24 Karat (Brassolaeliocattleya hybrib) at Serendah International Orchid ParkThey produce flowers that are absolutely showy and impressive, with extreme variable in color, size and form. Some Cattleya flowers are sweetly scented too. Such exotic and sensual beauty to behold and fragrance to savour!
    Somewhat long-lasting, they are borne terminally on a sheathed flower stalk that emerges from the pseudobulb and may appear as one, two or more flowers, sometimes even up to 20 according to the type of species or hybrid.
    Typically, a Cattleya flower has 3 narrow sepals and 3 petals that are usually broader, of which 2 petals are similar while the third is a distinct modified petal called labellum or lip.
    Cattleya hybrid: Blc Ablaze Medal 'U Emperor' at our backyard, Nov. 2007Usually, the rather large and conspicuous lip is beautifully speckled, blotched or veined and most often has a ruffled margin that folds into a tube at the base. Some Cattleyas, however, have a smallish tubular lip or deeply three-lobed lip instead.
    Cattleya flowers are often large-sized, especially those produced by the artificially hybridized plants, and size can vary from 5-17 cm or more. And they come in explosive colours, in fact all colours except true blue and black, as well as in various shapes and forms. The floral colour combination of Cattleyas is simply amazing, far beyond a painter’s limited palette and many combos would be a mismatch for dress designers too. However, when these psychedelic colours adorn the Cattleya flowers, the plants become highly prized or sought after! Aren’t they truly remarkable, stunning and spectacular?
  • Culture (Care): Since Cattleya species and hybribs are so extensive in numbers, diversified and extremely variable in habitat, growth habit and blooming characteristics, hence the following culture provided below serves only as general guidelines. Whatever, Cattleyas on the whole are easy-to-grow and easy-to-care orchids. Ideally, they are best grown in pot culture or mounted on driftwood or limbs and trunks of trees.
    Light: Require a great deal of bright light to some sun for best growth and to bloom well but never under direct sun which will burn the foliage. A healthy plant will have medium-green coloured leaves and erect pseudobulbs that need no staking. Dark green foliage indicate too little light while yellow to brown leaves, too much light.
    Temperature: Ideal temperature range for the day is 70-85°F and night is 55-60°F, though day temperatures up to 95°F are tolerable, provided shade, humidity and air circulation are increased. Temperature difference of 15-20 degrees between day and night is beneficial, especially for mature plants while an increase of 5-10 degrees night temperature for seedlings is recommended.
    Moisture: Regular watering, more heavily when plant is in active growth and less when it is resting. Overwatering may kill the plant. If doubtful, best to dry out between waterings for mature plants, but keep seedlings more moist. Reduce watering when plant starts blooming to avoid water in the sheaths that may rot the buds. Cattleyas love humid conditions, so stand the pot on a tray of pebbles half-filled with water, ensuring that the base of pot and plant roots are not soaked in water to avoid rot. And, ample air circulation is essential to prevent fungal or bacterial disease.
    Soil: Potting medium should be open and coarse, plus must be well-drained to allow water to drain quickly and wet roots to dry fast. Use orchid mixes, with reasonable chunks of bark, perlite, charcoal, lava rocks, broken pieces of pottery or coconut husk.
    Others: Require regular fertilizing with a balanced fertilizer (has a N-P-K of 20-20-20 or 30-10-30) once fortnightly during active growth and once monthly when not actively growing will suffice. Or alternatively, use an orchid fertilizer, diluted to one-quarter recommended strength, weakly once a week. Recommended to thoroughly flush the plants with water every month to prevent salts build-up.
    Repot only if necessary, when the pseudobulbs outgrow its pot or potting medium is decomposed and needs to be ‘overhauled’. Best to repot after flowering has ceased or in the spring and plant should be healthy and new pseudobulbs show signs of new root growth before repotting, otherwise wrong timing can stress the plants or may even kill them.
    Remove dried sheaths from pseudobulbs to prevent water being trapped therein and as a breeding/feeding space for insects. Moreover, it’ll improve the plants general health and look tidy too.
    Common pests are scale, mealy bugs and aphids – check your plants regularly to nip in the bud any infestations.
    For subtropical and temperate regions: Hardiness: USDA Zone 11 – above 40°F (4.5°C). Cattleyas are adaptable to greenhouse culture and thus able to grow almost anywhere in the world. Learn more about Cattleya orchid care from
  • Propagation: By dividing the plant, with 3-4 pseudobulbs per division and pot each division separately to grow as new plants after removing the dead roots from it. Do not divide a plant until it has at least six mature pseudobulbs.
  • Usage: Cattleya orchids make excellent potted plants for interiorscape to beautify homes, offices and the like. Outdoors, they make ideal hanging baskets for porches, patios or mass-hanged on wire-mesh as backdrop for the tropical element. Look great too, when mounted on trees for that added interest. Because of its sheer beauty and versatility, Cattleyas are used extensively by hybridizers and popularly used in flower arrangements and bouquets worldwide.

Cattleya Alliance:
As I understand, members of the Cattleya Alliance comprise of hybribs created by crossing Cattleya with other allied genera, some popular ones being Brassavola, Broughtonia, Laelia, Sophronitis and Epidendrum,. It can encompass other obscure genera like Arpophyllum, Bakeria, Cattleyopsis, Caularthron, Schomburgkia, Tetramicra and others. Hybridization can include up to eight parent genera.
Here are some examples of the more popular intergeneric hybrid names:

  • x Bc. = Brassavola x Cattleya = Brassocattleya
  • x Blc. = Brassavola x Laelia x Cattleya = Brassolaeliocattleya
  • x Lc. = Laelia x Cattleya = Laeliocattleya
  • x Slc. = Sophronitis x Laelia x Cattleya = Sophrolaeliocattleya

Check out related site at:
Wikipedia, on Hybrids in the Cattleya alliance

The recent genera/hybrids transfers as explained in the AOS link above, have resulted in the vast majority of Laeliocattleya, Sophrocattleya, and Sophrolaeliocattleya hybrids being moved into Cattleya. And, most of Brassocattleya, Brassolaelia, Brassolaeliocattleya and Rhynchosophrocattleya hybrids are now placed in the nothogenus Rhyncholaeliocattleya (Rlc.). This will result in name changes for several hybrids in the Cattleya alliance.

Other external links:

Do enjoy the amazing Cattleyas at the following photo galleries:

More photos of Cattleya orchids to enjoy!


Cattleya amethystoglossa (Amethyst-lipped Cattleya), flowering in a friend's garden
Cattleya amethystoglossa (Amethyst-lipped Cattleya) – an unidentified variety with light lavender flower that’s heavily spotted and a bright magenta lip

{Take note that under the recent genera transfers (refer to section on Cattleya alliance above), some intergeneric hybrid names below have been changed. For example, x Brassolaeliocattleya (Blc.) is now a synonym of x Rhyncholaeliocattleya (Rlc.)}

Lc. Irene Finney 'Spring Best', AM/AOS (Laeliocattleya hybrid) at Serendah International Orchid Park
Lc. Irene Finney ‘Spring Best’, AM/AOS – mauve/lavender flower with cherry-red and yellow-eyed lip
Blc. Brad Carter 'Bri Lea' (Brassolaeliocattleya hybrid) at Serendah International Orchid Park
Blc. Brad Carter ‘Bri Lea’ – vivid magenta flower with red lip and yellow eyes
Lc. Ann Akagi 'H&R' (Laeliocattleya hybrid) at Serendah International Orchid Park
Lc. Ann Akagi ‘H&R’ – light pink/mauve suffuse over white, with magenta markings on edge of lip with creamy yellow throat
Blc. Yen 24 Karat (Brassolaeliocattleya hybrib) at Serendah International Orchid Park
Blc. Yen 24 Karat – brilliant orange flower with rusty-red lip and yellow eyes
Blc. Toshie Aoki 'Pizazz' AM/ AOS (Brassolaeliocattleya hybrid) at Serendah International Orchid Park
Blc. Toshie Aoki ‘Pizazz’ AM/ AOS – brilliant yellow with ruby-red flaring and a rusty-red lip
Blc. Ablaze Medal 'U Emperor' (Brassolaeliocattleya hybrid) at our backyard
Blc. Ablaze Medal ‘U Emperor’ – brilliant golden-yellow flower with red lip and yellow venation in the throat

Last edit: June 6, 2016

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4 Responses to “Cattleya orchids: exotic species and hybrids!”

  1. leah Says:

    would you mind trying to identify a orchid for me? I think its cattleya but, not sure what its name is.

    if so, let me know and I’ll send a picture of it.



  2. Jacqueline Says:

    Sorry, Leah! We’re not orchid experts. Even our orchids are identified by comparing our photos with those seen online through endless searches.

  3. Stephen Says:

    I thought you should know that the flower you have labeled as Cattleya amethystoglossa is not correct. It looks like it is probably an amethystoglossa hybrid, but certainly not the species.

  4. Jacqueline Says:

    Thank you, Stephen. Would you by any chance know its correct ID then? Any help would be much appreciated.
    Have a nice day.

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