By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
What is a clamshell orchid? Also known as cockleshell or cochleata orchid, clamshell orchid (Prosthechea cochleata syn. Encyclia cochleata) is an unusual orchid with fragrant, clam-shaped flowers, interesting color and markings, and yellowish-green petals that hang down like curly tentacles. Clamshell orchid plants are highly valued, not only because of their unique shape, but because they always seem to be in bloom. Interested in learning how to grow clamshell orchids? Read on for more information.
Clamshell orchid plants are native to the damp forests, woodlands and swamps of southern Florida, Mexico, the West Indies, and Central and South America. Like many orchids, they are epiphytic plants that grow on tree trunks and branches where they survive by absorbing moisture and nutrients from rain, air and water.
Unfortunately, the plant population in Florida has been decimated by poachers and destruction of habitat. If you want to try your hand at growing clamshell orchid plants, purchase a plant from a reputable dealer.
Growing clamshell orchids successfully means providing the plants with appropriate Cochleata orchid care.
Light: Place clamshell orchids in bright, indirect sunlight. One good option is an east-facing window where the plant is exposed to morning sunlight but protected from hot afternoon sun that may scorch the leaves. You can also place the plant under fluorescent bulbs.
Temperature: Clamshell orchid plants don’t do well in extremely high temperatures. Ensure room temps are below 85 F. (29 C.), and at least 15 degrees cooler at night.
Water: As a general rule, clamshell orchid plants need water about once every week or sometimes a little more often, using tepid water or rainwater. Allow the soil to become almost dry between watering. Reduce moisture during the winter months.
Fertilizer: Feed clamshell orchid plants every other week throughout the growing season using a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer with an NPK ratio such as 20-20-20. Feed the plant only when the soil is moist. Withhold fertilizer during the winter.
Repotting: Repot the plant when the container becomes too snug. The best time for repotting orchids is soon after new growth appears in spring.
Humidity: Clamshell orchid plants prefer a humid environment. Place the pot on a tray of damp pebbles to increase the humidity around the plant. Mist the orchid occasionally when the air is dry.
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For sheer cute appeal Prosthechea cochleata has to be one of my favorites. It looks like a little octopus to me although it is nicknamed the Cockleshell or Clamshell Orchid referring to the shape of the lip and the lines on it making it resemble a shell. In Mexico where it is rather common, it is known as Pulpo. The plant is found from south Florida, where it is endangered, through the northern portions of South America and there are several different types, some larger and some smaller. It is a natural epiphytic (growing in trees) orchid. If you have been studying orchids for a while you might be more familiar with the former name Encyclia cochleata and then Anacheilium cochleatum, both of which were recently changed to the new genus noted above. The flowers are called non-resupinate due to the fact that the lip is carried at the top of the flower rather than at the bottom. This is the characteristic that required the new genus. There is also an albino or alba cultivar of the orchid and these indeed look like little octopuses.
These orchids are generally medium sized in growth habit with fairly large flat oval shaped pseudobulbs, however there are two distinct sizes one much smaller than the other. I would recommend the larger one since the flowers are much showier as they are larger. If you are limited in space, the smaller version will still put on a good show.
Two thin leaves are produced at the top of the pseudobulbs and the inflorescence emerges from scapes at the top of the pseudobulb. The flowers are produced sequentially and the plant will bloom for several months with two to four flowers open at a time. They grow all year long and require warm temperatures to put on a great display. Medium light is necessary, although I grow them with my hybrid Cattleyas. Many people grow these well in low light conditions, but medium light is better. Be sure to give them enough water during the summer so that the pseudobulbs do not wrinkle.
As mentioned above, the flowers are non-resupinate or with the lip at the top rather than the normal position with the lip positioned at the bottom of the flower. The lip can be anywhere from dark, almost black, to white with golden stripes depending upon the cultivar. The petals and sepals are generally a very pale green and contrast nicely with the lip. They may twist slightly, depending upon the cultivar. There is also an albino or alba cultivar of the orchid and these indeed look like little octopuses. The albino varieties tend to produce much smaller flowers than the regular ones.
An exceptional cross between Prosthechea cochleata and Encyclia trulla is Prosyclia (formerly Encyclia) Green Hornet . It has larger flowers than its parents, between two and three inches or five to eight centimeters across, and a vivid green color in the petals and sepals. This hybrid was registered by H&R nurseries and has brought new interest with its larger flowers and good coloration.
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|Family:||Orchidaceae (or-kid-AY-see-ee) (Info)|
|Genus:||Prosthechea (pros-THEE-kee-ah) (Info)|
|Species:||cochleata (kok-lee-AY-tuh) (Info)|
|Additional cultivar information:||(natural hybrid)|
Tropicals and Tender Perennials
Average Water Needs Water regularly do not overwater
USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 °C (40 °F)
Can be grown as an annual
By dividing rhizomes, tubers, corms or bulbs (including offsets)
N/A: plant does not set seed, flowers are sterile, or plants will not come true from seed
This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:
On Nov 25, 2005, wallaby1 from Lincoln,
United Kingdom (Zone 8a) wrote:
A very eager plant, I have grown this from a very young plant, it remains a healthy looking plant unlike some other orchids.
First flowering went on for months, a new flower would open before the previous one was ready top drop, each flower lasted approx. 1 month. The next pseudobulb is much larger and starting to produce a new flower stem. Kept in my kitchen by an east facing window, good humidity and cool to warm temperature, getting heat from a radiator in winter daytime. An elegant species which needs no staking.
An evergreen, epiphytic orchid from Central America.
Has lance shaped, mid-deep green leaves coming from a flattened pseudo-bulb. Bears long, ribbon like, twisted pale green sepals and petals. The lip is light green heavily streaked with maroon or purple and some white at the base.
Flowers on and off throughout the year but mainly in Spring and Summer.
Needs a lightly shaded position out of full sun especially in warm climates. Use an epiphytic orchid compost which is a mix of shredded bark, perlite and charcoal.
Keep dryish in winter. Dislikes temperatures above 86F or 30C.
Since orchids occur in such a vast array of different habitats their exact requirements vary, but generally speaking it is best to water orchids during the early morning. By watering the orchid early in the day you give the foliage a chance to dry before the temperature drops in the even. Misting and damping should also be carried out early in the morning or during midday. Orchid leaves that are coated in water droplets when the sun sets will be more susceptible to rotting and mould infestations. Experienced keepers can adhere to other regiments, but for the novice orchid keeper it is safest to avoid late watering, damping and spraying.