Flower power: Explore the fragrant orchid at the Orchid Show & Sale on April 20-21

Editor’s note: Today’s blog comes to us from John Stubbing of the Houston Orchid Society.

Have you ever thought of growing your own orchid corsage? There are plenty of reasons to take up growing these exotic and beautiful plants as a hobby. Not only do many species have large and colorful flowers, but many orchids are also fragrant!

For example, many of the large-flowered Cattleya types (the ones typically used in corsages) have wonderful, sweet fragrances that can fill a house — so romantic. Unfortunately, the blooms lose their fragrance when cut, so the recipient of a corsage doesn’t experience the full joy of these flowers.

Some 80 years ago, in the middle half of the 20th century, these corsage flowers were cut mostly from species orchids. Collectors harvested entire orchid plants from the wild in the rainforests of Central and South America, where Cattleyas are native, and shipped them to the United States and Europe.

Cattleya percivalianaCattleya percivaliana normally blooms in December or January, so is called the Christmas Orchid

There, commercial growers would cultivate the plants until they flowered. Once the flowers were cut and sent to the florist, the plants would be discarded.

Starting in the 1930s, growers began to experiment with “man-made” hybrid orchids to use in the cut flower trade. Not only were they able to create unusual flower shapes and colors, growers also learned to regulate the flowering time of both species and hybrids to match florists’ needs.

For example, a large crop of flowers in perfect condition for sale a week after Mother’s Day or Easter would be a disaster for the grower. Manipulating the orchids’ bloom time gave growers the ability to provide cut flowers to the florist trade for all the major holidays throughout the year.

Cattleya lawrenceanaCattleya lawrenceana blooms in spring

Cattleya intermedia alba

Cattleya intermedia alba blooms March through May

For over nearly two centuries, growers have hybridized Cattleya species with other orchid genera to increase the number of flowers and widen the color range. Now we have Cattleya-type flowers ranging from blue to yellow to green to red, in addition to the traditional whites, pinks and lavenders. Many of these complex hybrids bloom several times per year, whereas most of the original large flowered corsage types bloom only once a year.

Many Cattleya orchids, whether species or hybrids, can be grown outdoors in medium-bright sun in Houston, when temperatures are above 40 degrees.  At lower temperatures, they need to be moved inside. They also can be grown indoors year-round in bright windows or under bright lights. Depending on the species make-up, the large-flowered Cattleya types will usually bloom the same month each year. The plants can be moved into the house to enjoy the flowers and then returned outside for better growth.

You can obtain additional care instructions at the Houston Orchid Society meetings held monthly at the Houston Garden Center. Also, written care sheets are available on the American Orchid Society page here.

Several of the Cattleya varieties pictured above, along with many other types of orchid, will be on exhibit and available for purchase at the Houston Orchid Society’s Annual Show and Sale. This lavish event will take place April 20 and 21 in the Grand Hall at the Museum of Natural Science.  Admission is free (except for the orchids you take home with you!)

Cattleya Nancy Off ‘Linwood’Cattleya Nancy Off ‘Linwood’ AM/AOS, with 6-inch flowers, usually blooms in the spring.

Flickr Photo of the Month: Summertime! [May 2011]

Flowers - HMNS Demonstration Butterfly Garden
Flowers – HMNS Demonstration Butterfly Garden
by Michael A Sanderson.
View Large.
Posted here with permission.

There are some amazing photographers that wander the halls of HMNS – as well as the areas surrounding the Museum in Hermann Park. When we’re lucky, they share what they capture in our HMNS Flickr pool. Each month, we share one of these photos here on the blog.

Even those who visit the Cockrell Butterfly Center frequently may be unaware that our staff and volunteers maintain a living butterfly garden just outside the Center’s doors. While the indoor rainforest is home to unusual species from exotic locales from Malaysia to Costa Rica, the outdoors butterfly garden is a great spot to check out local Houston species – and learn a little bit about attracting them to your own garden.

I loved this photo of flowers in the Museum’s demonstration butterfly garden by Michael Sanderson, who generously shared it in our Flickr pool and also agreed to let us share it with you. Here are his thoughts on the image:

I love the demonstration butterfly garden at HMNS. It’s kind of out of the way of the main people traffic and at the time of year this photo was taken, many of the other flowers in the area were suffering from the heat and drought. This little area was an oasis in the shade.

Inspired? Most of the Museum’s permanent galleries are open for photography, and we’d love for you to share your shots with us on Flickr, Facebook or Twitter. Check out the HMNS photo policy for guidelines.

Adopt A Butterfly – this Saturday

Perched
Creative Commons License photo credit: bensonkua

It’s easy to love the feeling of walking into the Cockrell Butterfly Center. As you take your first step inside, you’re ensconsed in the warmth of the air and the comforting blanket of humidity…well, as a native Houstonian, perhaps I find that feeling more comforting than most.  

As you skim over your surroundings, you’ll see flowers the size of your monitor, vines as thick as your keyboard, and the most inviting non-yellow brick road you’ve ever seen. Butterflies from all over the world aimlessly fly around you and it hits you like a ton of bricks that now is the time to relax and take life at a slower pace. After 10 minutes of pure relaxation, you finally start poking around the place and finding the most curious things: butterfly host plants holding cocoons and caterpillars, creeping vines crawling up two floors of glass walls to soak up the light, and the splash of the waterfall which causes tiny droplets of water to spray upwards while the butterflies dance on them. All of these things make up the rhythm of life within the Cockrell Butterfly Center.

Now, it’s your chance to participate in that rhythm. For a contribution of $15, you can release a butterfly into the Center and become a butterfly parent. Your contribution helps to pay for butterfly and insect food, for weeds to be cut back, for new plants and insect species to be introduced, and for the upkeep of our greenhouse – a safe haven for butterflies and plants until they are mature enough to reach the Center. You are also contributing to HMNS’ ability to provide you and all of our visitors with the latest information and research about these incredible creatures.

Frittilary
Creative Commons License photo credit: Lida Rose

Adopt A Butterfly

Join us this Saturday (October 11, 2008) from 9 am until 2 pm in the Cockrell Butterfly Center for your chance to release a young butterfly into its new home. Adopt A Butterfly tickets can be purchased online or at the door for $15. Receive your butterfly to be released in the Center, your adoption certificate, your name on our web site as a Butterfly Parent, and a small commemorative gift for your donation.

While you’re here, participate in our crafts and activities! Houston Holocaust Museum is spreading awareness of The Butterfly Project here at HMNS. Find out more at their web site and learn how you can help.

The Greenhouses of the Cockrell Butterfly Center

Since they are located on the roof of the parking garage, there are  thousands of Houston Museum of Natural Science visitors who don’t know that the greenhouses of the Cockrell Butterfly Center even exist.  That will all change, now that you have access to the details of our daily operations.

There are actually three glass greenhouses, each 1000 sq. ft. in size. They come complete with their very own heating and cooling systems.  There are lots of daily activities that occur within these hidden glass walls above the gems and the dinosaurs located in the main halls below.  These daily activities occur in rain, shine, wind, hail, tornado, hurricane…(Evacuate!!!), and flood.   (More on those in upcoming posts.)

 

greenhouse-_2-passionflower.bmp

The first of these three greenhouses, greenhouse #1, is used mainly to propagate and raise host and nectar plants used in butterfly gardening.  These plants are utilized in the Tropical Rainforest environment of the Butterfly Center for nectar enhancement of the meadow area and other pocket areas as needed. Tropical plant species awaiting transfer into the Rainforest Conservatory by one of our staff horticulturist are also housed in greenhouse #1.

Between April and November, these plants may also be found for sale on our Plant Cart, located just outside the collections gift shop. We also hold two, larger plant sales each year,  in April and October.

 

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Hungry, Hungry, Caterpillars!

Greenhouse #2 houses 850 tropical passion-flower vines that are used to feed hungry caterpillars (the larval stage of the butterfly life cycle).  There are also hundreds of nectar sources utilized in our Heliconius rearing program. (In case you were wondering, nectar sources are the flowering plants that provide nectar to butterflies as a food source.)

Greenhouse #3 houses our butterfly rearing and larval (caterpillar) pupation facilities.  Within these insectaries, we house male and female mating pairs of the longwing butterflies.  Once the butterfly eggs are collected from the rearing insectaries they are transferred into the “pupation area” where the larvae continue to feed and grow until they  pupate. 

Upon pupation, the pupae, or chrysalis, are collected and transferred to the entomologist for processing.  After the pupae have emereged, they are transferred into the Cockrell Butterfly Center’s rainforest environment as adult butterflies; ready to feed and start the cycle of life over again.