This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V22", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Although strictly speaking all the species of this curious genus are not cool orchids, they all are as well adapted to cultivation in any ordinary greenhouse, as many of those which are found at greater altitudes. This the writer has thoroughly tested for the past two years, and can therefore speak from experience.
With exception of the large family of Epiden-drums, the Stanhopeas are of the easiest culture, and can be grown as successfully by the amateur as a geranium or fuchsia. Notwithstanding they are chiefly natives of the hottest parts of Mexico and South America, they seem to have a greater capacity of accommodating themselves to a moderate degree of heat, I might almost say an absence of it, than any members of this wonderful family. One species is included among the orchids successfully grown out of doors in Bohemia during June, July and August, 1852, and subsequent years, and I am convinced that partially shaded, they will grow equally well from May to September in the latitudes of Baltimore and further South in the open air, as they have done under glass without fire-heat. Like all orchids, except those coming from equatorial regions, many of which will grow continuously, they require a season of rest and growth, and blossom during the summer and autumn months only. Simultaneously with the flower stems, the young growth appears and pushes forward vigorously, many of the leaves and pseudo bulbs attaining the height of two feet. During this season they need a liberal supply of water, and if the leaves are occasionally syringed it will prevent the attacks of the red spider and thrips.
After their growth has been completed, water should be gradually withheld, and only sparingly given until the time for their flower spikes to be developed in the spring. For those who are commencing the culture of orchids, there are none better adapted to their wants, as they are easily cared for in winter, it being only necessary to keep them in a light and airy position where the thermometer does not fall below 40° at night. As a proof of the ease of their culture, I will say that a plant of S. Martiana in the summer of 1879, developed a spike of seven flowers while suspended from the roof of a greenhouse by a string, without basket, moss or any attention, save an occasional syringing, and also made new growth, and a plant of 5. Wardii, imported in July, although without foliage, is now sending down a strong flower scape. They should be invariably grown in baskets, open at the bottom and the sides, made of small cedar or locust sticks, six to eight inches in length and four deep; the bottom of copper wire or sticks half an inch apart, to permit the flower spikes to find their way through with ease, as they always take a downward direction, and are often blighted if they meet with any obstruction in their course; and these baskets must be suspended from the roof near the light, protected slightly from the scorching rays of the sun.
They should be grown in no other material than true sphagnum moss.
This was one of the two or three orchids observed by Hernandez, the old Spanish naturalist, a century and a half before orchids became popular, who, on page 266 of his work, gives a rude wood cut of the plant, under the name of the Lynx flower. The name is not inaptly applied, yet to the majority of observers its curiously grinning flowers remind one more of a flock of birds with spotted wings outspread, hovering over some object they are endeavoring to take up with their claws. This fancy is more striking in S. oculata, so named from the brown spots in the sides of the grotto, which have the appearance of eyes. They vary in size from two to eight inches across, and in numbers, upon a scape, from two to nine. I have had several with eight the past summer, and some species are said to produce many more. Some are without fragrance, but most emit a strong odor each species having its peculiar characteristic in this respect, occasionally unpleasant, but usually delightful - strong vanilla, delicate cinnamon or lemon scented - and in one species, S. virginalis, which is purp white, like orange blossoms. This is very rare.
In color, all shades of yellow, orange, lemon, straw color and greenish-white abound, and the pure ivory white and waxy lip of several species gives them a beauty and softness seldom seen in the floral world. A large portion of the species have flowers spotted with chocolate, red, purple of various shades, crimson and rose, and as unlike in the method of their arrangement as possible to imagine. My own experience confirms the testimony of others, that each species is more or less varied by cross fertilization in their native habitats, scarcely two plants of the same species being spotted alike, although the form of the flower, the distinctive characteristic of the species is the same. The only drawback to their general cultivation and usefulness for decorative purposes is the fugitive character of their blossoms, lasting usually for three days only; but this is more than made up by the fact that each strong and healthy plant will give from one to three spikes of from three to eight flowers each summer, and a friend reports seven spikes from one basket.
Very little reliable information with regard to the several species is to be found in any of the many works on orchids and their culture. Williams names but ten, and many of these are much alike; Bull but ten, the Fairfield orchids but two; and Burbidge does not even include these in his " Cool Orchids and How to Grow Them." Evidently the genus is as they say, much mixed, and the opportunity is still afforded for some enterprising botanist to classify and rearrange this splendid family of gorgeously colored flowers in some systematic order, and assign to their proper places the twenty-six species now known to exist, and the new ones continually being discovered in South America.
It may be desirable to add that the name given to this interesting genus was so conferred by Sir Wm. J. Hooker, in compliment to the Right Honorable Philip Henry, Earl Stanhope, about fifty years ago, President of the Medico-Botanical Society, of London; the Mexican name given by Hernandez is the euphonious "Coatzonte Coxochitl," and that the distinguishing characteristics are the downward direction taken by the flower-scapes and certain botanical differences in the structure of the flower, intensely interesting, but not necessary to mention here.