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Laelia purpurata "The Queen of Christmas and Summer orchids"!

Laelia purpurata  "The Queen of Christmas and Summer orchids"!

This going to be a rambling and factual blog as it should be.

Just like a conversation with me about this glorious and crazily under rated and rarely seen cold growing orchid. 

The first thing that I have discovered after nearly 40 years of growing orchids is that there is always something new to grow. I seriously thought I knew just what I could and couldn’t grow under cool temperate conditions as we have in Melbourne. With temperatures between minus 4.c and up to 46.c it really is amazing just how many types of orchids you can grow. (Conditions similar to Adelaide, Perth Sydney and Hobart). 

Laelia purpurata are not shy in producing their giant 4-6 inch 15cm blooms. Every new cane throws 3-6 giant high colour blooms on strong racemes.

The large buds appear from the papery protective sheaths around mid-December and are at their finest for Christmas day and the New Year holiday season. 

There is almost no other orchids in bloom at that time, even the Sarcochilus have finished. 

I can’t understand why the world is not awash with Laelia purpurata and its relatives. 

Large, fragrant, cool to cold growing (but will also enjoy warmer climates such as Brisbane and north) All ours are grown right alongside the Aussie Dendrobiums and Cymweediums. 

We give them no other treatment apart from what all our other orchid receive. 

Same mix, same water, same feed, same pest and disease controls. We have seedlings from as little as $6 each

So here is a little botanical stuff about where it originated from in nature  


Kindy  borrowed from Botanical Boys website  

First, a little bit about this species. It was described in 1852 by Lindley and placed into the Central American genus Laeliabased on its 8 pollinia (masses of organized pollen grains) instead of the usual 4 found in Cattleya, a trait of all the large flowered Brazilian Laelia species. Because of their similarity to Cattleya (and dissimilarity to other Laelia) they became known as “Cattleyode” Laelia or the Cattleya-like Brazilian Laelias.

The flower of Cattleya ("Laelia") purpurata v. werkhauseri is famous for its indigo flushed and veined lip.

Recent DNA research has proven that they are in fact quite distinct from other Laelia in the Americas, and are in fact simply large flowered Cattleya. The first name change for this group happened in 2008 from Laelia toSophronitis until that genus, lock stock and barrel, was transferred into Cattleya a year later. So, though this plant is still mostly known by growers as Laelia purpurata(and some doggedly defend that position), it now is officially in the the genus Cattleya.

If that weren’t enough story telling for you, there is an even more interesting back story to v. werkhauseri. Back in 1904 this blue flowered form was found in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil by Karl Werkhauser. He found two clones labeled I and II. The first was a not so great flower but the second was wonderful, so he called it ‘Superba’. Anyway, plants were never sold or given to anyone except at his death in 1914 – his son got the poor flowered plant and his daughter the good one. The son apparently got off his division quickly, but the daughter kept the other under lock and key for another 40 years! After some crazy negotiations with local orchid lovers she finally sold the plant for serious money. Apparently all the plants we know as v. werkhauseri today are descended from that original 5 bulb division (she kept many more for herself). Because of her selfish attitude this form got the nickname, “The Witch’s Jewel”.

Cattleya purpurata has a growth form typical of single leaf (unifoliate) Cattleya species and can grow very large, up to 60 cm in total length.

In nature this species is found in the coastal forests of southern Brazil in the states of São Paulo, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul. It’s distribution is somewhat disjunct starting in the north between Rio de Janeiro and Porto Novo, picking up again around Praia Grande south to Cananéia (São Paulo State), skipping Paraná State, and starting up again south of Joinville (Santa Catarina State) to the vicinity of Tramandai (Rio Grande do Sul State).

It is said to grow on rocky shores close to the ocean, especially on big fig trees, in nearly full sun conditions. These coastal rain forests have undergone vast changes since people have been living in them for a long time. It is said that Ficus trees are favored by some native people, not only for their fruits, but for cultural reasons, and are left uncut. For this reason, many large fig trees grow to massive size, and it is here that the orchids find a home.

The plant is typical looking for a unifoliate Cattleya, with elongate-clavate (club shaped) pseudobulbs growing up to 30 or more centimeters long and each boasting a single, leathery, elongate succulent leaf (itself up to 20-35 cm long). The flower sheath, itself quite long, emerges as soon as the new growth matures with flowering commencing sometime from late spring into autumn (mine has always flowered in late May/early June). Each growth can hold anywhere from two to five flowers.

Now the flowers are the obvious attraction of this variety. C. purpuratais known for its large flowers (reported up to 8 inches in some forms!), but v. werkhauseri is best known for its lovely, yet odd blue-violet tubular lip. The blue is strongest at in the middle part just before the lip flares out while deep within its tube is pure white (including the column), yet still heavily striated. Otherwise the flower is pure white throughout with a slight hint of green in the sepals. They also have a lovely sweet, floral scent, and are long lasting.


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  • joan morrissey on

    when obtained, will try one ,in front growing large magnolia tree..

  • Wayne Turville AON on

    This species seems to have the highest flowering rate of nearly any orchid I can think of.
    When they are mature enough they will do it all on their own.
    Keep em high and dry over the cold months
    Although they dont like it below freezing at ALL!

  • Pamela Everett on

    Good morning,
    I live in Ohio with very little sun during our winter months. I have had L. Purpurata since May of 15 growing in a pot in our sunroom facing SW on a shelf . During the past year I saw new growth and new roots growing over the side of the pot so in order to prevent any damage to the roots I set the plant in a larger pot. I know have a sheath that is very green as our my leaves. I would be so excited if I could see a bud . Do you have any suggestions ? My plant has 8/9 healthy very green canes growing in a larger bark mix. I think our seasons are opposite so we are going into spring ……I also bought a L. tenebrosa at the same time and still no sheath on it, but new growth as well. The growth on the purpurata is mature. In Ohio we are lucky if our orchids survive the winter without stree and sadly each winter I seem to lose a few which breaks my heart.
    Thanks ever so ,

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