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How to Grow: Cattleya Orchid Care

Updated: Feb 5, 2022

General Information

Orchid enthusiasts collect different hybrids with Cattleya as one of the more popular varieties. It is native to tropical America and sometimes referred to as the “queen of the orchids.” Cattleya orchid plants produce some of the brightest, most uniquely formed flowers in the orchid world. The average home interior is perfect for growing Cattleya orchids. There are just a few details to learn regarding how to grow Cattleya orchids; but once you master those, you will have a lovely and long-term addition to your home.

The orchid plants we call “cattleyas” may be species or hybrids within the genus Cattleya, or they may be close relatives (Laelia, Brassavola, Sophronitis, Epidendrum, ­Encyclia, Broughtonia), or hybrids among these genera. Fortunately most of the species and hybrids of the cattleya tribe are easy to grow, and some are highly recommended for beginners’ collections. Many of them adapt beautifully to our subtropical conditions, doing equally well in pots and other containers, or naturalized in our trees.

Some interesting information about Cattleya is their native habit as Epiphytes, or tree growing plants. They can cling to a tree crotch or rocky crevasse and need little soil. The plants are long lived perennials and some professional collectors have plants half a century old. Cattleya orchid plants grow well in soilless media, such as bark and rocks or perlite, which mimics this natural growth habit. The thickened stems, called pseudobulbs, store moisture for the plant to use during the dry season.

Light Requirements

Like most flowering plants, cattleyas want bright light in order to grow and flower well. They will take fairly high light levels early and late in the day, but should be  protected from ­direct midday sunlight. You can easily tell if a ­cattleya is ­getting the right amount of light by looking at the foliage. Afternoon sunlight coming through west-facing windows can be extremely hot and, without adequate air movement and humidity, damaging to your plants.

If the plant’s leaves are rich, dark green, it isn’t getting enough light; if the plant is light yellow-green, it’s getting too much light. The correct light levels produce foliage with an attractive medium green color. If your cattleyas don’t flower, lack of light may be the culprit, but don’t move plants abruptly from too-shady to very bright conditions. Move the plant gradually to brighter conditions or you may scorch the foliage. Some species in the cattleya alliance grow in nearly full sun in their native habitats, although most of the commonly cultivated species and hybrids prefer just slightly shadier conditions than this. Let the foliage color be your guide to the amount of light necessary for good growth and flowering. As a general guide, cattleyas want very bright shade, with some sunlight early or late in the day.