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  • In Search of Eldorado - Cattleya eldorado

    Possessing nearly the same mystique as the fabled city of gold sought by conquistadors, Cattleya eldorado is the rarest of the unifoliate Cattleya species in cultivation today. It's smaller in size than most unifoliates, with a mature plant fitting comfortably in a 4" pot, but the flowers, while not gargantuan for a Cattleya, aren't disappointing at 6" across.
    . . . .
    Petals and sepals are typically light pink to medium magenta, with the darker forms being highly prized.

    The inner throats are yellow - initially opening a greenish yellow, but maturing into a vibrant yellow-orange - with a darker purple splash on the edge of the lip.

    . . . .
    Our search to discover this fragrant beauty will lead us down into the dark forests of . . . the Amazon!
    . . . .
    Cattleyas are well adapted to the rain forest habitat where trees grow to over 130 feet and the interlocking canopies allow little light to penetrate to the forest floor far below. They grow as epiphytes in the upper branches, far from view for a chance observer, enjoying the rich humidity held in by the leafy canopy.
    . . . .
    But don't look here to find Cattleya eldorado. In the lower valley of Rio Negro, where the river flows into the Amazon River at Manaus (the region in red on the map), the forest is riddled with microhabitats where vegetation dramatically shifts. These areas are known as the Campinas of the Central Amazon. (Campina being Portuguese for "grassland', but grassland being a very relative term in a rain forest.)
    . . . .
    The soil here isn't the Amazon's typical clay. Rather it's white sand. The trees are stunted, only reaching 30 feet and are much more open. Low shrubs and lichens create a habitat nearly identical to that of the Venezuelan and Brazilian beaches. Light easily reaches to the forest floor, and orchids aren't banished to the distant treetops. Here they grow at eye level, creating a delightful display when in bloom, if you consider the ubiquitous mosquitoes, jaguars, and anacondas in the region delightful.
    . . . .
    Cattleya eldorado is adapted to this unique habitat, and doesn't mind the dramatic humidity swings that occur - high humidity after a rain, quickly drying out without the rain forest canopy to hold in the moisture. In fact, in cultivation the species enjoys a dry rest after blooming and a dry dormancy in winter. It also prefers warmer temperatures than other Cattleyas. Nights of 70 degrees are more to its liking - a full ten degrees warmer than for most other Cattleya species.
    . . . .
    Unfortunately for this showiest of Amazon orchids, it, like its namesake, might fade to mere legend. The white sand is a prized resource in the Amazon, and severe destruction of the Campina habitat threatens Cattleya eldorado's existence. It's currently considered endangered.
    . . . .
    Photos by Francisco Miranda (light form) and Kleber G. de Lacerda (dark form) Learn more about Cattleya Orchids on the OrchidTalk Orchid Forums
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