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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, June 10, 2005

Grammatophyllum orchids can be spectacular

By Scot Mitamura

In Hawai'i, we are very fortunate to be able to grow many orchids in our back yards, often without greenhouses.

24th Annual Orchid Show and Plant Sale

9 a.m.-8 p.m. today, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. tomorrow, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Sunday

'Aiea Elementary School cafeteria

$2 donation suggested, 65 and older free 56-1857

Grammatophyllums are growing in popularity, mostly because they have become readily available from many of our commercial growers.

The genus grammatophyllum has eleven different species. Its name is derived from the Greek words gramen (grass) and phylon (leaf), referring to the orchid's resemblance to grass or sugar cane. They are fairly widespread throughout Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and the southwest Pacific islands.

All the species of grammatophyllum produce inflorescences (flower stalks that emerge from the base of the stems or pseudobulbs.

Flowers range from a greenish to mauve background with brown to maroon splotches and to all brown, and there is even a select cultivar that is a bright yellow-green with no spotting at all.

Many grammatophyllums are very large; in fact, the largest known orchid is Gram. speciosum. This is truly a giant in the orchid kingdom. It is normally found growing in trees. Its sugar-cane-looking pseudobulbs can grow 15 feet and longer. Flower stalks can grow more than eight feet, with up to a hundred 5- to 6-inch flowers that normally are cream to mauve with maroon splotches.

The largest single plant on record was exhibited in 1851 in the Crystal Palace in London. This monster weighed more than two tons!

I remember having coffee with Ted and Stella Sumida in Kahalu'u, overlooking their beautiful orchid nursery.

Just off to the side of their lanai were two of the largest speciosums that I have seen.

They would always open up their home in late August to share the beauty of this spectacular orchid.

The Sumidas have it growing potted on the ground in blue rocks, and it is grown out in the open.

This plant can be a shy bloomer, only blooming once every two or three years, but Ted seems to be able to bloom it every year. His secret is the spring application of bone meal. Grammatophyllums bloom only once a year, but the long stalks with numerous flowers allow it to stay in bloom up to three months.

In fact, Gram. multiflorum, a similar species, can stay in bloom for up to nine months!

The most common grammatophyllums are the scriptums. They are smaller, normally growing to around three feet.

There is a compact form that has smaller flowers up to 2 inches, but the flowers are very close together, making it quite spectacular in its own right. The brown-spotted forms usually bloom in June to August, while the pure greenish yellow Gram. scriptum citrinum variety "Hihimanu," will normally bloom later and last into September.

There is a huge display of the larger spotted scriptums blooming in the main lobby of the Ala Moana Hotel. It looks like a giant orchid Christmas tree. Other places to see Gram. speciosum, are Foster and Wahiawa botanical gardens, as they have been blooming the past few years.

If you are lucky enough to get yourself one of these, you can enjoy them in your home, as they do have a somewhat pleasing (to some people) fragrance.

After flowering, either mount them on a tree or grow them in a pot or basket. Just make sure you give them lots of room to grow.

Start looking for these beauties in your favorite garden shop, open market or orchid show.

The 'Aiea Orchid Society annual show and plant sale is this weekend. It always has incredible specimens of this truly remarkable orchid.

Scot Mitamura is the orchid horticulturalist for the Honolulu botanical gardens. Reach him at hbg@honolulu.gov.