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
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.