This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V23", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
In a former article upon Stanhopeas (December, page 364) I referred to the above as the easiest of culture of all orchids. They also are most numerous, if we except the Oncidiums and possibly the Dendrobiums, there being from three to four hundred known species and varieties, and the number unknown is also great, judging by the new members constantly being added to this large and varied family of epiphi-tes. Although they are all, I believe without an exception, natives of the continents of North and South America, chiefly the latter. They are found from the latitude of Florida on the north, to 25°south, or the vicinity of Santos, Brazil; and from the level of the sea at the mouth of the Orinoco to an altitude of 14,000 feet. They differ much in habit; and while some species have pseudo bulbs from one inch to several in height, others are entirely destitute of these curious appendages, and throw up long slender stems, clothed with leaves like a climbing vine, to the height often feet or more. All, with one exception of which I am aware, E. Stamfordianum, produce their flowers from the top of the stem or bulb. These vary more than in any other genus from green to scarlet, including white, rose, purple, orange and yellow.
Often very insignificant, though the fragrance of those least showy is occasionally sufficient to perfume the whole house.
They are very much like members of the Cactus family, difficult to kill when once well established and will stand any amount of rough treatment, and even cold, to a moderate extent, without injury. Although many of the species are not worth cultivating by the amateur except for their fragrance, there are about thirty that are good and amply repay the little attention they require.
Before speaking of the several species and varieties that have come under my notice, I will allude to the uncertainty of distinguishing them by the foliage and general appearance. These are often very deceptive, and with few exceptions, they cannot be positively identified until they flower; particularly is that the case with some of the best varieties. As before said many species have small flowers, but occasionally a fine bloomer is found, four or five inches in diameter, worthy a Cattleya or Laelia. In several importations of the past season, I find plants of slightly different bulbs and appearance, evidently not of the species sent, though mistaken for that when collected, and I am awaiting the development of their flower spikes with much curiosity, especially those that came with a shipment of E. macrochilum (Atropurpureum) which contains several plants quite different from the type, in the hope that some of them may prove to be the beautiful variety Roseum, and also in a lot of plants sent with E. nemorale majus.
Of their culture it is scarcely necessary to speak. Wired to a block of oak, cedar or maple with sphagnum moss, or potted in this moss with good drainage, they do well in almost any position, or any degree of heat, and with few exceptions grow like weeds. Of these I may mention E. bicornutum, one of the handsomest species with which I could do nothing until wired to a block without moss, and E. aromaticum which refused to grow until similarly treated, though it scarcely differs in appearance from E. dichronum, which requires pot-culture. Of course that essential of all orchid growth, an abundant supply of moisture, is necessary at stated times as occasion may require.
There are but two species indigenous to the United States, found in the State of Florida, E. conopseum, without pseudo bulbs, the stem five to eight inches in height, surmounted by two to five coriaceous leaves, ending in a terminal spike of three to ten graceful pale green or yellow flowers, with slight fragrance, not remarkable for beauty, though rather curious. Its matted roots thickly cover the branches of trees, especially of the Magnolia grandiflora in Florida, and the States bordering the Gulf of Mexico. The other, E. venosum, differs in being provided with two short pseudo bulbs and two long narrow veined leaves five to eight inches in length. These two species will serve to illustrate the two great sections into which the genus is divided, viz.: those having pseudo bulbs, and those without; three or four of the former, however, more nearly resemble Cattleya; in fact E. aurantiacum being often mistaken and sold for the beautiful Cattleya Skinnerii.
To enumerate a few of the best which have come under my observation, I will first mention E. aloifolium (aloe leaved), called also Parkin-sonianum and falcatum, and in Mexico, Brasa-vola Pescatorea, or Holy Spirit flower. Natives of Guatemala, must be grown suspended from a block, leaves downward, like Cattleya citrina, or in a basket with moss, so that leaves can hang down over the edge. The flowers are four or five inches across, yellow and brown, with pure white lip, like a delicate butterfly with expanded wings, with the powerful fragrance of the Night-blooming Cereus, filling the house at morning and night, and lasting in bloom four to six weeks. Truly a most dainty and beautiful gem, and appropriately named.
E. cochleatum (spoon orchis), a continuous bloomer, not pretty but curious; in the shape of the deep velvety purple; lip in an upright position, so unusual. (Figured in Harper's Monthly Magazine, 1880.)
E. oncidioides, a Mexican species with tall branching spikes of small light green or yellowish flowers, lightly hung on slender filaments,-exquisitely graceful. It takes its specific name from the resemblance of its inflorescence to that of the Oncidium, or possibly from similar structure of the flower.
E. dichromum, a lovely species from Bahia, is a profuse bloomer. Its large panicles of flowers of great substance vary from white to deep pink or purple; and in one variety the sepals are beautifully veined with radiating lines of deep purple.
And lastly we have the brilliant scarlet or orange-scarlet, E. vitellinum, of which the variety majus is truly superb, blossoming sometimes in winter and sometimes in summer, lasting from six to eight weeks in good condition. A grand and brilliant flower.
These will all do well in the ordinary temperature of a greenhouse, where geraniums, fuchsias and such plants are kept, and are splendid plants for the amateur or beginner to test his skill upon, for they will not suffer materially from neglect, as would the more delicate orchids.
The list can easily be enlarged by including the beautiful E. nemoralis majus, E. micro-chilum (larger lip), called also atropurpureum, from Mexico and Venezuela; E. Frederici Guil-ielmi, E. myrianthum and E. prismatocarpum, all of which being from great altitudes, will thrive in cool-house culture.
In the early days of orchid classification the name of this genus, more properly written "Epi-dendron," meaning a plant growing "upon a tree," was applied to all epiphites, or plants growing upon other plants, not properly assignable to any other genus. Jacquin so applied it to some one of the twelve species he describes. (Plates 131-142 ed. 1763.)
So susceptible are the above to cool treatment that we find eleven specimens of Epidendrons included in the list of orchids grown out of doors in Bohemia in the year 1852, referred to in a former article.