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Cornucopia - Dactylorhiza Orchids

Dactylorhiza Orchids
Debbie Leonard

During the wonderful HPS holiday in 2009, many of the gardens grew clumps of Dactylorhiza orchids. A particularly superb clump of these at John Massey’s garden had us queuing up to take photographs. The urge of acquisition began to grow.

At one garden the various borders contained a plethora of Dactylorhiza species, and the sales area contained three different types. I was asked my opinion of these, as the price varied between £8 and £10! I was sorry to say that the price was fair for a flowering size plant but I wouldn’t buy any myself as the leaves didn’t look right.

I should explain. Some Dactylorhiza have brown/purple spots on the leaves, of these, D. fuchsii and D. elata had necrotic brown leaves as well, and D. foliosa which normally has glossy green leaves had an irregular chlorotic line that meandered around the leaf. I know that there are various viruses that infect these orchids (chief amongst them Cladosporium). I felt guilty, as I almost always advocate buying plants (especially from the cheaply priced HPS table at the back of the hall), so I broached the subject with a couple of terrestrial orchid growers. Their horrified faces said a million words, in short don't buy if at all suspect.

However, a couple of Dactylorhiza did arrive on the coach. How have they fared? Have they reappeared? Have they multiplied? Members who are keen to acquire these little treasures can take heart. There are usually a few plants at the AGS Early Spring Show, price usually between £4 and £5, and I bought two D. elata hybrids for £1.50 each at the AGS Essex group show at Rawreth last April.

An article in the Scottish Rock Garden Club Journal written in 2001 recommends spraying with a benzimidazole fungicide like carbendazim, or a modern non-oomycete fungicide. Seek professional advice as to whether these are still available as many chemicals have been withdrawn. Though as terrestrial orchids need soil mycorrhiza (beneficial fungi) around their roots, pouring fungicide everywhere is a risky business.

When your plant has flowered and set seed (or if you have purchased seed) scatter it around the parent plant, as the seed needs the correct mycorrhiza for germination and growth. If you don’t have a parent plant, try sprinkling seed around a small potted hosta! I found seedlings galore in mine, but be careful as they look just like grass seedlings.

Good luck!

Recommended reading: ‘Hardy Orchids: orchids for the garden and frost-free greenhouse’ by Phillip Cribb and Christopher Bailes.

First published in the Essex Group Newsletter, Spring 2010
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 28.
© Copyright for this article: Debbie Leonard

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2011. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.


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