Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Pleurothallis leucopyramis is my favorite plant in the garden...this week

With so much growing and blooming outside in the garden and so many new plants being added, I've had a new favorite practically every minute. I promise I will cover these new plantings at some point, but my favorite plant this week is found indoors: a diminutive Brazilian orchid named Pleurothallis leucopyramis (Catchy, right?). As orchid nomenclature is dizzying in its many changes, this orchid is also known under the names Pleurothallis pterophora and Pabstiella leucopyramis, to name but two of its synonyms. This is one of many orchids that doesn't really have a common name, but I like to call it the lily-of-the-valley orchid (despite that common name referring to several other orchids) because it bears a resemblance to that common garden plant,  most notably in the fragrance of the flowers.

This delicate little plant doesn't even get to vacation outdoors, as I fear it would dry out too easily, and only left its open-topped terrarium for a brief photo shoot. Really, the terrarium is just one of those cheap plastic ones and with the open top it doesn't increase the humidity substantially, but it is a convenient way to keep my more fragile plants in one place. This is also one of those orchids that gives credence to the common belief that orchids are high maintenance, requiring rain or distilled water and preferring a relative humidity over 50%. Most commonly available orchids are really very tough plants, but I already had some of those and had long since moved beyond the supermarket orchid into the realm of collector plants. It takes some practice and careful monitoring to keep this rather finicky plant evenly moist. Too wet with inadequate air circulation and it could rot, too dry and at the very least you fry any developing bloom spikes. It really isn't an easy plant to grow in the home, much preferring a terrarium or greenhouse where it has high humidity and soft air flow with protection from strong sunlight. Actually, I may be painting a harsher picture than the reality. It has survived quite a bit of abuse, moving from Pennsylvania to North Carolina to Washington. It will tolerate drying out occasionally and less than perfect humidity, but to really grow this plant well it should not be allowed to dry out and really appreciates a humid atmosphere.

Have I totally sold you on this plant? You might be wondering why I even bother with it, and in fact I had been considering ditching it from my collection. It does have these really cool little spotted leaves....


The spots fade as the leaves age, but never quite disappear. Still, not an especially ornamental feature unless you are into miniatures and like looking closely at such details. As it happens, I am one of those neurotic individuals who enjoys such fine details, but that feature alone still wasn't enough to really make me want to keep this high-maintenance orchid. I was so close to either putting this orchid up for adoption or composting it when I noticed three little inflorescences (bloom spikes) growing. Well, I certainly couldn't discard it until I had seen the blooms, now could I?


I'm so glad I kept it, even if it is high maintenance. This orchid produces flowers from the base of the leaf, like lily-of-the-valley. And like lily-of-the-valley, the flowers produce a powerful scent like roses, with a slight medicinal smell mixed in, though not unpleasant. The clean perfume wafts through my bedroom, most strongly in the morning, and these three tiny bloom spikes actually compete with the lingering, cloying scent of the Hoya carnosa, which wanes in the morning. A sniff from the source can nearly knock your socks off when the scent is at its strongest, but makes for a wonderful greeting upon waking.


The stats:

  • Intermediate to cool-growing (55-60F lows, 75-80F highs are ideal, will tolerate somewhat lower and higher temperatures
  • Height 4-6 inches tall (including flowers)
  • Grow in a fine-grade orchid mix with fast drainage. Components may include things like 1/4" coconut husk chips or fir bark, perlite, tree-fern fiber, and charcoal. Mine is in pure sphagnum moss, which is great as long as you don't pack it in too densely.
  • Water as the growing medium approaches dryness. 
  • Flowers are born on a short inflorescence rising slightly above the leaves, white and strongly scented like lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis).
A tip for anyone trying to grow orchids: think really hard about getting rid of them and they will usually bloom for you! If thought alone fails, dangling them over a trash can or compost bin in a threatening manner usually does the trick.

Outside of the world of orchid collectors, this orchid is not well-known, so in addition to me wanting to share how wonderful it is to wake up to the smell of lily-of-the-valley, I also wanted to share a plant that most readers might never have heard of otherwise. This is definitely not a practical plant, but it appeals to the geek in me. I hope you enjoyed it (and I won't blame you if you're content to stick with actual lily-of-the-valley out in your garden, or someone else's).

My favorite plant in the garden this week is hosted by Loree Bohl of Danger Garden. Click on over to see her favorite plant this week and check the comments to see what other bloggers are admiring in their gardens.


6 comments:

  1. As I was reading along I'm thinking "oh there has to be a bloom..." And there was! But wow, that's a pretty fabulous little bloom even without getting the scent. Nice fav!

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    1. Oh, yes, there's a bloom. And I agree. Even without the scent, I love the delicate, crystalline white of the flowers.

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  2. Nice markings on the leaves, pretty blooms too! I was starting to think 'looks like lily of the valley' and then you mentioned it as well.

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    1. Now that I've bloomed it once, I can go back to admiring those nice spots and enjoy the blooms as a bonus when they choose to appear again.

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  3. Bless its sweet spotty little leaves - I'm glad it bloomed for you before you decided to toss it out. I'm not an orchid collector but I have managed to accumulate quite a few. Generally, I ignore them beyond dumping water on them (when I remember) but they're surprisingly tolerant of benign neglect.

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    1. I have other orchids that survive easily with benign neglect, but this plant really needs more attention.

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