The original Laelia genus was one of the workhorses of the orchid world. Not only were these plants lovely on their own, with a variety of beautiful flowers and species, they were readily crossed with Cattleya, Sophronitis and Brassavola species to create some of the most beautiful orchids in the world. Recent name changes, however, have upended the traditional taxomony, and today the Laelia genus has been reduced to a few species of Mexican Laelia, while the much more famous Brazilian Laelia have been renamed. Unfortunately, however, confusion abounds: the traditional Laelia genus is still widely used, and the renaming of plants hasn't caught up with the mass trade. For that reason, I'll include both the "traditional" Laelia orchids in this group and the revised species list. For more information on the name change, please see "Taxonomy and Structure." In general, Laelia are durable and easy-to-grow plants that can easily thrive on a windowsill with a little bit of attention.
Taxonomy and Structure:
This is where things get confusing. Laelia was traditionally a member of the Cattleya alliance, along with the closely related Sophronitis genera. These plants were differentiated on very small anatomical differences and used to create some of the most famous hybrids in the orchid world, such as the Brassolaeiliacattleya. In 2006, however, based on gene studies, the decision was made to sink the Laelia into the Sophronitis genus. Then, in 2008, the further decision was made to sink most of the Sophronitis species into the Cattlea genus. As a result, the former Laelia plants, including the very famous Brazilian Laelia purpurata is now known as Cattleya pupurata. Similarly, the many hybrids are undergoing name changes as well. Thus plants that were once named Laeliocattleya will be simply known as Cattleya in most cases. The newly defined Laelia genus contains only a few Mexican Laelia orchids, including Laelia anceps and Laelia rubescens. Unfortunately, these changes haven't been spread yet throughout the entire orchid Internet, so there's still significant confusion in labelling and many orchids are still known by the old Laelia species or hybrid names. If you're confused about the name of any particular plant, the best resource is the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families at Kew Gardens in London.
Laelia orchids grow in conditions similar to Cattleya. They thrive in bright conditions, but dislike direct sunlight. One of the easiest Laelia to grow is the L. anceps, which features creamy white flowers on a very long inflorescence.
Laelia do not require especially high humidity, which partly reflects their roots as relatively high altitude plants. When they're growing, keep them well hydrated, with about 50% humidity if possible. When the growing season ends, reduce watering and humidity and give them cooler temperatures. Most Laelia flower during the winter, after the growing season is over.
Laelia are not especially heavy feeders. During the growing season, feed with a standard orchid food at quarter or half strength and suspend feeding in the winter.
They are intermediate orchids in the growing season, with a cool period during the winter.
Laelia typically bloom in the autumn or winter, after the growing period stops. The two most common species, L. rubescens and L. anceps feature inflorescence ranging between one and three feet. L. anceps typically has two to five flowers of about four inches across. L. rubescens has eight to twelve flowers, each about three inches across. Laelia flowers are usually white or pale lavender.
Potting and Media:
Laelia adapt well to pot culture, or they can be grown mounted on slabs of tree fern bark. If you're growing in a pot, make sure to use a fast-draining orchid mix (typically including pine bark, expanded clay pellets, and charcoal). Repot after the bloom is done, at the beginning of the growing season.
In general, Laelia orchids are very similar in their cultural requirements to the Cattleya species. Although most Laelia have since been renamed, the remaining species are still worth seeking out, and these plants are still used to create interesting and beautiful hybrids. Find a sunny windowsill for your Laelia and chances are, you'll enjoy lovely blooms year after year.