Roy Fields was a specialist in orchid seedlings. A native Floridian, he makes his home in the village of Miami Shores, where he grows orchids on a plot that is 140 square feet.
Raising plants from seed is nothing new to Roy Fields; as a boy, he experienced great delight in planting seeds from choice oranges in his father’s citrus grove and watching them sprout and prosper.
It’s been a long road from orange seed to the microscopic seed of orchids, with some detours. Now his name is nationally known among orchid growers and fanciers.
Roy Fields’ interest in orchids began while hunting wild turkeys in the Everglades. After assembling a large collection of native plants, he bought his first exotic specimen, a purple cattleya.
That was 15 years ago. After building up his orchid stock for 10 years, he grew orchids for a living.
Orchid growers from all over the country flock to his greenhouses. He has many gorgeous specimens of mature and blooming plants, but he is best known as a specialist in seedlings.
Rodney Wilcox Jones, world traveler and former president of the American Orchid Society, has visited Mr. Fields many times and thinks his success as a seedling grower is phenomenal.
Seedlings In Flask Stage
One greenhouse is devoted entirely to seedlings still in the flask stage. Row after row of glass flasks shaped like French dressing bottles shows seedlings in various stages of growth.
First, the containers are sterilized, then a formula of several chemicals plus sugar and agar-agar are put into the flasks, and then everything is sterilized together under steam pressure.
The next day the seeds are planted in the flasks immediately after being soaked for 15 minutes in a sterilizing solution.
To the unaided eye, orchid seed resembles dust. Mr. Fields has to use a magnifying glass to determine the actual seed from the chaff. The seedlings remain in the flasks for a year before being transplanted into community pots.
The ordinary flask averages 300 seedlings and sells from 810.00 up. These tiny green things take at least five years to bloom. Mr. Fields, however, has had cattleyas blossom in 4 years and a spray variety in two.
After the interval in flasks, orchids are transplanted into 3-inch pots. At this stage, they resemble tiny annuals or grass. There are about 30 to a pot, and they remain there for approximately one year.
Mr. Fields’s Advice On Growing Orchids At Home
Growing orchids in the home are becoming more and more popular each year. Mr. Fields has mapped out a few suggestions beginners might find useful.
First, obtain a copy of “American Orchid Culture” by E. A. White. This has been called the beginner’s bible because it contains so much valuable information.
The American Orchid Society Bulletin is helpful, too. The subscription rate is $5.00 annually and is available from the Harvard University Printing Office, 1 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge 38, Massachusetts.
While orchids may be grown successfully in slat houses in southernmost Florida, greenhouses are necessary farther north and even in Miami.
Roy Fields grows all of his young plants under glass. Orchids may be grown in a greenhouse as small as 10′ by 12′ feet. It would take about 100 mature plants to stock a place of this size.
Using Wardian Cases
Some beginners use Wardian cases instead of conventional greenhouses. These are cases made of glass that can be put in a sunny window and are about 3′ by 5′ feet in size.
The bottom, which is usually filled with gravel to a depth of 3” inches, is watertight, and enough water is added to come almost to the top of the gravel.
This water assures proper humidity for the plants set on the gravel in inverted pots. The foliage is sprayed twice daily with a small syringe in hot weather. Wardian cases hold as many as a dozen blooming-size plants or numerous small ones.
Orchids are grown in a material called osmunda fiber, the root of the osmunda fern. In greenhouses, they are usually planted in flower pots, but in slat houses, they are frequently planted in slat baskets hung from the top of the house so they will drain quickly in heavy rains.
An orchid plant that is left soggy for 10 days will have such a bad setback that it will probably need a year to recover.
Rule For Watering And Fertilizing
The best rule to follow in watering orchids is to water them when they dry. Some dry out in hours, others in days. Mr. Fields collects rainwater for his plants. If it gives out, he uses city water on his mature plants but never on the young stock.
The amount of fertilizer used by growers varies—Roy Fields fertilizes very little. He gives his baby plants in community pots a small amount of fertilizer similar to that used in hydroponics (gravel culture).
Few tools are required for orchid culture; About all that is needed is a potting stick to force the osmunda into the plants, not because they are easier to grow than some hybrids but because they are usually cheaper.
Widely Grown Cattleyas
Of the species, cattleyas are the most widely grown. They measure up to what most people think an orchid should be. Nearly all the cattleyas listed here are approximately the same size and shape.
Except for Cattleya dowiana which is yellow, they are varying shades of orchid but sometimes come in white or white with a colored lip.
The following are satisfactory for beginners:
- Cattleya gaskelliana
- Cattleya mossiae
- Cattleya gigas
- Cattleya labiata
- Cattleya trianae
- Cattleya percivaliana
Several types bear bloom clusters, up to 20 flowers on a single stem. Two of the best-known and most widely grown in this group are Cattleya skinneri and Cattleya bowringiana.
For those who want a succession of blooms throughout the year, the flowering seasons for the above are as follows:
- Cattleya bowringiana and Cattleya labiata, fall
- Cattleya percivaliana, late fall and early winter
- Cattleya trianae, if winter
- Cattleya gaskelliana, early spring
- Cattleya mossiae, Cattleya gigas, and Cattleya skinneri, spring and early summer
- Cattleya dowiana, summer
Another group of commonly grown species is dendrobium. The most satisfactory of this group from a blooming standpoint is Dendrobium phalaenopsis. These vary from pure white to a rich reddish purple.
They are free-growing and a sure-flowering type. Dendrobium nobile is another favorite species, yet in some sections, they do not bloom as profusely as in others.
One of the best-loved groups of spray orchids is the phalaenopsis. These plants produce sprays of as many as 100 flowers. However, the best of the new hybrids have larger blooms, although fewer in number than the species.
They come in white and varying shades of pink. The whole is more popular than pink and is used extensively in wedding bouquets.
For the beginner, P. schilleriana, pink, and P. stuartiana, white, are desirable plants to start.
The Swan Orchid
For a note of rare color in a collection, Mr. Fields suggests one or more plants of the swan orchid, botanically known as Cycnoches chlorochilon.
It is deep chartreuse, with sturdy petals and a creamy green lip shading to a clear deep green.
When turned upside down, the flowers of this plant resemble a swan—the lip forming the body and the column, the head, and the neck of the bird.
Still another group, grown extensively in the Hawaiian Islands and becoming more popular in the United States, is the vanda, which has many species. Vanda sanderiana is considered the finest existing species of orchid by many botanists.
It is a strap-leaf plant with a cluster of up to a dozen flowers, each above 3 by 4 inches in diameter. The color scheme is fascinating—the lower half is mottled and tawny, while the upper half is a light orchid shade.
The most common vanda is Miss Joachim, which survives in the open in Hawaii and southern Florida. It is known as a terete vanda because of the pencil-like leaves.
This grows almost like a vine attached to a trellis, bearing flowers freely throughout the year.
Thousands of these orchids are imported and given away as favors when new business enterprises are launched.
As to his enterprise, Roy Fields- says, “It takes a lot of patience to grow orchid seedlings, and one must be an acute observer.
As many things can happen to baby orchids as to human babies. To be successful, a grower must constantly be on the alert.” From all appearances, Roy Fields is.
44659 by Harriet Gray Blackwell