Cattleya warscewiczii is the best known of all Colombian Cattleya, although, it is safe to assume that it is not the most popular among hobbyists, simply because in the northern hemisphere, the blooming season is usually during the hot months of July and September.
The plant was discovered near Frontino in 1849 by Josef Warscewicz. Most plants from the early collection perished during the trip to Europe and it was not until some 20 years later that the plants became more popular in the European collections.
By the end of the XIXth century, they received very high awards by the Royal Horticultural Society. It also received the name of Cattleya gigas because of its size, but this name is only a synonim of Cattleya warscewiczii. A friend of mine told me once that you do not need to be an orchid grower to appreciate the beauty of this Cattleya. It is indeed a magnificent Cattleya when it is in full bloom. Not many orchids compare to it at during blooming season.
During my literature search on articles about Colombian Cattleya I had some trouble finding good articles that describe accurately the habitat, the flower, the plant’s morphology and also that provide some guide as to how to cultivate the them. I found the best article ever published on any Colombian Cattleya in Orquideología in the issue of December of 1973. The article was later re-published in English in the Orchid Digest of April 1996.
Anything that can be written can hardly improve on that particular article about Cattleya warscewiczii. As with most Colombian Cattleya, there are very clear and defined zones where the plant is found in its natural habitat. Although most have subtle differences as to their morphology and chromatic variations, important color variations in this Cattleya are rare to find.
Zone 1: Frontino - Dabeiba This zone is located some 150 kilometers Northwest of Medellín towards the Urabá zone where Cattleya aurea variety dureda is found.
It is found at elevations between 700 to 1.000 meters above sea level. It is the possible to find Cattleya hardyana in this habitat as well. Most color variations come from this region. The variety used to be called imperialis. Alba, semi alba, cegata, coerulea, light semi alba, and very dark forms can be found, although the normal color form is pink to dark lilac pink.
The lip is usually very round and the shape of the flower is, on average, the best of all zones where cattleya warscewiczii is found. Blooming takes place in March and April after a dry season that started mid - December. Each flower spike will have between three to five flowers. Plants receive water abundantly during and after the blooming season until mid June. Mr. Warscewicz discovered this Cattleya in this region.
Zone 2: Porce Most cattleya are found along riverbeds where air circulation is always present.
Cattleya warscewiczii grows also along the Porce River down to the village of Amalfi. The region is only about 80 to 100 kilometers due North of Medellín.
This variety can be in many ways compared to the Frontino – Dabeiba variety, both because of its color variations and because of the shape of the flower. However, flowers tend to be a bit lighter in color and therefore the cegata or darker varieties are more difficult to find.
The region is somehow drier than Frontino – Dabeiba and this may cause the plants to have smaller flowers but if abundant water is given during bud formation and after flowering, there will be virtually no difference between the flowers of both regions.
Zone 3: San Juan. This zone is also called Amagá.
It is found some 100 kilometers Southwest of Medellín. Even though the plants can be found near the village of Amagá (25 kilometers South of Medellín), the main area where this variety is found is along the San Juan River, a subsidiary of the Cauca River. If one continues some 50 kilometers up the Cauca River (to the North) one would find Cattleya quadricolor.
Alberto Echavarria and Rodrigo Escobar describe plants having a “smaller size and lesser quality”. I can only agree with this statement. However, There is something very extraordinary about these plants, that is the way they bloom. They simply cover themselves with flowers in the month of April.
Although there is a famous alba variety called Amagaceña (From Amagá), it is doubtful that it really comes from this area as it does not have smaller flowers and is very good in shape. There is simply no color variation on this area.
Zone 4: Carare Opón Zone The variety is also called Sanderana.
It is found where the Sates of Antioquía, Cundinamarca Santander and Boyacá come together along the Magdalena River. Blooming takes place about a month after all other zones, probably because the plants receive more water for longer periods.
Plants are found in wooded areas to deeply forested areas. Plants of this variety can stand heavier water regimes than the plants originated in the other varieties. Plants are also larger and more massive. The main difference however is in the size of the flower and the quantity of flowers per bloom. Flower size can reach 25 centimeters across and each flower spike can bear some 10 flowers. This is unique to this Cattleya.
The shape of the sanderana type will never match that of other variants simply because of the size and the clear rib in the middle od the petals. The petals rarely overlap. The region is difficult to reach and plants grow in tall trees (Anacardium).
Few color varieties come from this region, probably because it has been less collected and because there are fewer persons living in the area. Peasants tend to collect color variations and keep them in their homes as decoration. Having fewer people on the area also probably means fewer possibilities to find newer color forms.
Despite the fact that color variations are rare, all color forms described in other Cattleya are present in warscewiczii except true concolor. There was a true concolor plant called “Goyo” which died in cultivation soon after it was collected. Only a nice old picture is left of that plant.
It is possible to find true alba forms such as “Envigado” “Porce” and the magnificent “Firmin Lambeau” all the way to a very dark color form like “Ebano”. Coerulea variations can also be splendid; among them, “Mamá Polita” also called “”La Floresta”, “Helena de Ospina” “Ituango” and many others.
Much work has been done through breeding to improve the shape and color of Cattleya warscewiczii. It is now possible to find most variations in excellent shapes. Mr. Francisco Villegas from Orquifollajes has done a remarkable job in this area. Place text here
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