By Clint M. Dawley
C. jenmanii var. semi-alba (photo by Clint M. Dawley)
Cattleya jenmanii (unifoliate) is an elegant species native to Venezuela's Guayana region where it is found as an epiphyte or a lithophyte. It wasn't until 1971 that G. C. K. Dunsterville and Harvard botanist Leslie Garay "re-discovered" this plant. However, this plant was first discovered in 1906 by John Rolfe and named after G. S. Jenman, a botanist working for the British government. Rolfe briefly mentioned this species in Kew Bulletin 20 and The Orchid Review of July 1906, but after that the species must have fallen out of favor (as many of the earlier clones were of poor quality) and it was never mentioned again. Cattleya jenmanii can be distinguished from its close cousin, Cattleya labiata, in that it has only a single sheath––labiata usually produces a double sheath. Also, Cattleya jenmanii usually flowers later in the season than Cattleya labiata.
In the picture below, my alba variety is growing in clay pellets in a 3" pot. The pseudobulbs grow very closely together (compactness) and are only about 10-12" tall (including the leaf). For those of us in the northern hemisphere, this plant blooms in the late autumn/early winter months. (My semi-alba clone bloomed on Christmas Eve of last year.) This is one of the easiest growing and most compact of the large-flowered lavender Cattleyas of South America. Typical Cattleya temperature ranges of 58-85F, relative humidity of 60-70% and bright light are essential in the success of blooming this species. There are several color varieties of this species––from dark lavenders to pristine albas (white).
As far as hybridization with other Cattleya alliance species, there are only two crosses (that I know of) registered to date with the Royal Horticultural Society. The first hybrid made is called Cattleya David Sander (Cattleya jenmanii x Cattleya percivaliana) and was registered in 1954! It wasn't until 2006 that Cattleya Jentri was registered (C. trianae x C. jenmanii). I was lucky enough to acquire Cattleya David Sander (C. jenmanii x C. percivaliana 'Summit' FCC/AOS) in the summer of 2006; however, it is still a seedling and it will probably be at least two years before this orchid reaches blooming size. In the future, I hope to see this species as a parent in new hybrids as the plant is small and compact for a Cattleya species, the fragrance is absolutely phenomenal, and the flowers are large when compared to the overall size of the plant.
New hybrids made from this species should be very interesting. If I had the time and the resources, I would like to hybridize this plant with the smaller-growing Sophronitis species or the larger, elegant Laelia purpurata. In the future, I am sure there will be some interesting hybrids to collect.
C. jenmanii var. semi-alba in a 3" Pot!
(photo by Clint M. Dawley)