English orchid collector William Cattleya gave the Cattleya its name. The orchid has no specific symbolic meaning but is associated with fertility and virility. The expression ‘to catleya’ (‘faire catleya’ or ‘arranger les catleyas’) is a euphemism for amorous goings-on between Odette and Swann in Marcel Proust’s ‘À la recherche du temps perdu’.
Sculpted edges – sometimes with small frills – and large flowers with an enormous lips – these are what make Cattleya one of the most recognisable orchids.
Colors and shapes
Cattleya is a distinctive houseplant with a pseudobulb on which there are just a couple of thick leaves. There are large and small-flowered Cattleyas: the small-flowered species have more flowers per stem than the large-flowered ones. The flowers are usually ten to twenty centimetres in diameter, and range in colour from white through yellow, orange, green, pink, and purple to fabulous pastels. Some are beautifully scented, which has earned Cattleya the nickname ‘Queen of the Orchids’.
Read also: What is the meaning of orchids?
Cattleya is a tropical orchid which only occurs in South and Central America. It’s an epiphyte, which means that it lives on trees and bark without drawing nutrients from them. As ecological competition in the jungle is fierce, Cattleya often opts for height and establishes itself high up in trees. Of all the orchids, Cattleya has the most varied appearance. All Cattleyas also have fairly hard leaves. This indicates that they get a reasonably large amount of light or sun in their natural environment, and therefore need it indoors as well.
- Position: preferably light, but no direct sunlight.
- Immerse the pot for half an hour with a small dose of orchid food once every 10 to 14 days, then allow it to drain thoroughly.
- Cattleya thrives on high humidity: place the pot on a kind of island of damp clay beads.
If the air indoors is very dry, e.g. because of central heating, it’s best to mist an orchid’s buds every day. This prevents them from drying out and not opening.
- The orchid will keep looking its best with some ‘benign neglect’. Remove wilted flowers, but otherwise leave the plant alone.